The UK has been “the first out of the blocks” with help for India, but will not send vaccines to the Covid-ravaged country until Britain has surplus supplies, the Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams has told MPs.
He said the UK was responding to the Indian government’s needs, and had been the first country to provide practical support “in the face of heartbreaking scenes that had shocked us all”. He said he had friends of Indian heritage who were “at their wit’s end”, and vowed the UK would be at the forefront in providing aid.
So far the UK government has sent 200 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators in nine airline containers, with 400 more concentrators to be sent in the next two days.
Adams said the equipment from surplus stocks was based “on the most acute need indicated to us by the Indian government”. He said the UK would be looking to see if there was more to be done. Oxygen cylinders were not being sent, he said, because the Indian government said replenishment was not compatible with Indian systems.
Some Labour MPs said the help being offered was a drop in the ocean, and even Tory MPs said France and Germany were doing more by providing cryogenic containers capable of transporting liquid oxygen. One of India’s problems is transporting oxygen to the point of greatest need.
Adams questioned whether these were being provided on a commercial basis.
The shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, urged ministers to recognise that “this is now a global emergency, and the UK must ramp up delivery of life-saving equipment”. She called for the government to coordinate with the EU and to supply drugs such Remdesivir. It is estimated 17 countries have so far provided help.
Adams was pressed on whether the UK would do more to provide vaccines, but he said Britain had no surplus vaccines and had instead offered funding to the Covax scheme administered by the World Health Organization to supply 1.3bn doses to up to 92 lower-income countries, including India.
He said he did not know how many of these doses were going to India, a country that has vaccinated only 9% of its population. He rejected calls to allow a patent waiver to let vaccines be produced more widely, a request supported by India and South Africa.