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  • John McDonnell

The India pandemic requires a different response

Reports out of India are horrifying. There are now over 400,000 new cases of COVID 19 a day and serious cases are many more than the hospital system can accommodate.

The Indian authorities are doing their best to deal with the problem. On Saturday they opened vaccinations to all adults, launching a huge inoculation effort that was sure to tax the limits of the federal government, the country's vaccine factories and the patience of its 1.4 billion people.

The world is providing support, but it is not enough. The US is supplying 1 million doses of vaccine which is a ‘drop in the ocean’ of what is needed.

India is the world’s largest supplier of vaccines, but it is running short because of shortages of raw materials and production problems. There is evidence that major developed countries such as the US are hoarding raw materials.

Only a fraction of India’s population is able to afford the prices charged by private hospitals for the shot, experts said, meaning that states will be saddled with immunising the 600 million Indian adults younger than 45, while the federal government gives shots to 300 million health care and front-line workers, and people older than 45.

In the circumstances, it is in the interests of the global community for the developed countries to get behinds a mass vaccination program for India. This will prevent a global spread of the disease and the prospect of multiple new variants.

The global community should also provide pop-up treatment facilities to take the load off the Indian hospital system. On Saturday, 18 patients died when a fire broke out in an Indian COVID ward.

Meanwhile, an unseemly debate has broken out in Australia over the return of Australians stranded in India. As Flow News 24 reported last week, Australian quarantine facilities are at their limit, so the government has paused the return of people from India for a fortnight until quarantine capacity improves. At the moment 57 per cent of people with COVID - who are in quarantine - have returned from India in the last fortnight. Health authorities do not know how many of these will require hospitalisation.

After the pause was imposed, two cricketers, Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson, returned to Australia from India via Qatar without fulfilling the necessary quarantine requirements. As a consequence, the government introduced penalties under the bio-security law that imposed fines and possible jail sentences for Australians who return through third countries without complying with quarantine requirements.

Human rights groups are arguing that Australia’s restriction on the return of Australians from India is a violation of their human rights. Amnesty International Australia's Joel MacKay has told Nine media that the federal government has shown a "complete disregard" for Australians overseas, saying:

“The Human Rights Commission, the United Nations, us at Amnesty International - we've all been saying that the way that they're dealing with stranded Aussies violates human rights. It is not just breaching human rights, but it is just an utter disregard and contempt for the way that they are working with stranded Australians."

However foreign minister, Marise Payne, denied that the restrictions were racist because they did not apply to returnees from other countries. She said that they had been applied solely on the basis of medical advice.


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