India on Friday assured the people of Nepal that once it rolls out a vaccine against COVID-19, meeting their requirement will be a priority for New Delhi, amid a spike in cases in the Himalayan nation.
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla, addressing a Distinguished Lecture hosted by the Asian Institute of Diplomacy and International Affairs (AIDIA), a Kathmandu-based non-partisan foreign policy think-tank, said that India is "on the cusp of the availability of a vaccine for the novel coronavirus".
"As the world's largest manufacturer of vaccines, India is at the forefront of this effort. We have at least five promising vaccine candidates at advanced stages of trials.
"I would like to assure the people of Nepal that once a vaccine is rolled out, meeting Nepal's requirement would be a priority for us," Mr Shringla said, adding that dozens of sites across India are conducting vaccine trials on all ages and social groups.
"Given our genetic profiles, what works for India is likely to work for Nepal as well. Together we will recover from the pandemic and together we will protect our people," he said.
The Foreign Secretary said that the year 2020 has brought with it the additional challenge in the form of COVID-19 pandemic and this has been the most globally disruptive event since the second world war.
Its devastating impact on society, and the economy is still being tabulated. Recovery, resilience and rebuilding will require both perseverance and planning.
"Through this period, Nepal and India have been together, we have suffered together and we have fought back together," Mr Shringla said, adding that it has not been easy.
When the pandemic struck, India found itself short of critical health supplies as it did not manufacture Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) or ventilators. Only two companies in India made N95 masks and the country was lacking testing kits, the Foreign Secretary said.
"In a short span of time, with a whole-of-government and I would say whole-of-society resolve, led by the Prime Minister, our people rose to the occasion. National capacities were built, by the state, by civil society and by the private sector," he said.
"We created 15,466 dedicated COVID-19 facilities with 1.5 million isolation beds. Today there are over a hundred PPE manufacturers in India, making 150,000 PPE kits a day. At last count, there were 48 companies making ventilators," he said.
At the start of the crisis, there were 16,000 ventilators in hospitals all over India. Today, it plans to have 500,000 ventilators, Mr Shringla said.
Production of testing kits has gone up considerably and the country is conducting about a million tests a day. It is also supplying masks, PPEs, diagnostic test kits and ventilators to other countries. India's pharmaceutical companies ramped up production of drugs, especially Hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol, he said, adding that the country shipped these to 150 countries even in during the lockdown.
"Whatever we had and whatever we could, we shared with our friends, including here in Nepal," he said.
"We were too glad to extend assistance to Nepal in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, be it in equipment and supplies, or ensuring uninterrupted flow of goods across the border. We also assisted in repatriating Nepalese citizens from various countries along with our own citizens," Mr Shringla said.
Globally, 60,559,702 people are infected with the disease and 1,424,470 people have died due to the virus.
Nepal has over 226,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and nearly 1,400 people have died of the disease in the country.