Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla spoke to US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen E Biegun on Wednesday and discussed how to control the pandemic, including through development of “novel therapies” and prophylactics against COVID-19 and “ensure availability of essential medicines, diagnostic and medical equipment, and sharing of best practices and information”.
The phone conversation between Shringla, who was earlier India’s envoy to the US, and Biegun took place a day after India said it will supply essential drugs to “some nations who have been particularly badly affected” by COVID-19, and to “neighbouring countries who are dependent on India’s capabilities”.
New Delhi announced the decision shortly after US President Donald Trump said that “there may be retaliation” if India does not agree to export Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), a key anti-malaria drug.
Sources said Shringla and Biegun “discussed ways to further enhance their cooperation to counter and control the COVID-19 pandemic”. They exchanged views on the COVID-19 situation and associated challenges, a source said.
Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump had a telephonic conversation over the issue. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and US Secretary of State Pompeo had also spoken over phone to discuss the issue.
On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump tweeted, “Extraordinary times require even closer cooperation between friends. Thank you India and the Indian people for the decision on HCQ. Will not be forgotten! Thank you Prime Minister @NarendraModi for your strong leadership in helping not just India, but humanity, in this fight!”
On HCQ, New Delhi had said on Tuesday that a “comprehensive assessment” of India’s domestic requirements was carried out and it has confirmed the “availability of medicines for all possible contingencies”. It also said that the stock position “could allow” Indian companies to meet their export commitments already made.
Incidentally, that same day, the government had banned exports of HCQ, a drug Trump has repeatedly touted as a “game-changer” in the fight against COVID-19, but whose effectiveness is being debated. Besides the US, Brazil, some European countries and neighbouring countries are also asking for HCQ.
HCQ tablets are recognised as a prophylactic for those on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 — doctors, nurses, paramedics and first responders — and can be used to treat patients infected with the virus.
With more than 350,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and over 10,000 deaths, the US has emerged as the new epicentre of the pandemic. In India too, the cases crossed 5,000 and 149 deaths were reported by the Health ministry on its website on Wednesday, 9.30 pm IST.
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