COVID-19 and Indian Foreign Policy UPSC

In 2021-22, the international system continued to grapple with the challenges engendered by the Covid-19 pandemic. India saw a surge in COVID-19 cases, leading to the economic turmoil in domestic and foreign income. With the emergence of the third-wave and Omicron virus, the death toll had increased rapidly.

This surge also forced the country to accept foreign aid for strategic economic propositions. This article discusses COVID-19 and Indian foreign policy in the context of the IAS Exam.

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Introduction

  • Societies and governments adapted to Covid-19 realities by reinvigorating health protocols, upgrading medical infrastructure and enforcing calibrated restrictions on movements and gatherings.
  • While the initial phase of the pandemic saw containment of the disease as the primary focus through lockdowns, the subsequent phases saw the action shifting to mass vaccinations.
  • As of 31 January 2022, India had administered over 1.5 billion doses, with over 75% of the eligible population receiving full vaccination.
  • During this period, the Ministry of External Affairs continued its structured response to Covid-19 challenges.
  • As the global arm of the government, the Ministry was involved in a wide range of Covid-19 response mechanisms – from procurement operations to sourcing technologies to coordinating vaccines supplies and distribution.

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India’s Response to COVID-19

  • The Vaccine Maitri initiative in many ways reinforced India’s credentials as “pharmacy of the world”. World leaders publicly commended India’s efforts to rapidly expand vaccines production and supplies at critical junctures of the pandemic. As of 31 December 2021, India has supplied more than 110 million vaccine doses to 97 countries. Read more about Mission COVID Suraksha from the linked article.
  • More than 25 countries offered financial aid to India to fight the catastrophic resurgence of the COVID-19 second wave.
  • The delay in approving raw materials by the US for vaccine production in India led to the notion of Hobbesian realism. This factor was redundant in Indian Foreign Policy. Prime Minister Modi believed that India had beaten the pandemic and had the potential to distribute vaccines around the world. He promised the same at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2021.
  • At the Group of 20 summit in late October, Prime Minister Modi promised to deliver 5 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2022.
  • India assisted friendly African countries in overcoming the pandemic by providing 10 million, made in India, Covid-19 vaccines to 18 countries in the region.
  • Bangladesh
    • India gifted 3.3 million Covishield vaccines to Bangladesh to assist in its ongoing effort to fight the pandemic.
    • This was the largest tranche of Made-in-India Covid-19 vaccines gifted to any country by India.
  • Bhutan
    • Covid-19 related assistance also continued in 2021, with 400,000 doses of Covishield vaccines sent as grant assistance to Bhutan in March 2021.
    • On 11 May 2021, the Prime Minister spoke with the Bhutanese Prime Minister Lotay Tshering, expressing solidarity in the joint efforts to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • Myanmar
    • India’s total bilateral medical assistance to Myanmar for combating Covid-19 amounts to approximately USD 2.3 million.
    • In addition, India has also provided medical assistance worth USD 200,000 to Myanmar through the ASEAN Centre for Humanitarian Assistance.
    • India has also announced a grant of 10,000 tonnes of rice and wheat to Myanmar.

Support to India during COVID-19

  • The second wave of the pandemic in April-June 2021 caused enormous stresses on our health care systems.
  • There were shortages of critical medical supplies such as oxygen cylinders and concentrators.
  • A Special Control Room functioning 24/7 was set up in the Ministry. Critical supplies that included Liquid Medical Oxygen (LMO), oxygen generation plants, concentrators, ECMO machines, vaccines and essential medicines were procured from all over the world.
  • More than 50 countries extended support to India during this difficult time by donating essential medical supplies.
  • The Ministry coordinated with US and European counterparts for easing imports of pharmaceutical ingredients.
  • The Ministry also coordinated with foreign regulatory agencies for expediting approvals for ‘Made in India’ vaccines.
  • Covishield was approved by the World Health Organisation in February 2021 and Covaxin in November 2021.

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Frequently Asked Questions on COVID-19 and Indian Foreign Policy

What was the program under which India sent vaccines to neighbouring countries?

India sent vaccines to neighbouring countries under the Vaccine Maitri movement.

What are sectors that will help India develop its global economic domain?

India has to work on sectors like digital tech, climate or carbon footprints, health and geo-economics to develop its global economic domain.

Name a few neighbouring countries where India sent vaccines in 2021?

India sent vaccines to countries like the Maldives, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Seychelles.

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