External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Wednesday described the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic as an "all-consuming" challenge posed by a virulent strain of coronavirus and welcomed the enormous goodwill from countries around the world as a sense of solidarity in diplomacy.
S Jaishankar, who is in the UK on a four-day visit to participate in the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers Meeting as a guest minister, admitted that India's health system "stands exposed" but that there is a focussed plan to ramp up the vaccination programme and address the country's needs beyond the immediacy of the pandemic.
"We feel in India at a moment of great travail a sense that the world is with us," he said, during a live virtual event entitled 'Does India have a plan? From survival to revival'' as part of the Global Dialogue Series organised by UK-based media house India Inc Group and the Indian High Commission in London.
"We will get through this. But there is a larger lesson out of all of this... There is a sense of solidarity. I feel it here in London from the G7 because almost all the countries have been through exactly what we are going through. They feel for you."
"This pandemic is truly not just a game-changer, it's a thought changer. I see solidarity in diplomacy today and I would like to see that at home as well," he said, making references to the US, UK, Gulf countries, and others stepping in to support India with much-needed medical supplies.
During the In Conversation session with India Inc CEO Manoj Ladwa, the minister was asked if the government took its eye off the ball with regards to the second wave of the pandemic, which has resulted in some of the world's highest infection rates in recent weeks.
"There were repeated advisories going out and public health teams sent out. There was a move to ramp up oxygen production. The reality unfortunately was, as the numbers came down there was an amount of public confidence. This is genuinely not a blame game, but I don't think anyone in the country can say we kept our guard up all the time," the minister said.
"With the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to say we shouldn't have allowed gatherings of any kind. But there are times when we need to pull up our socks and put the blame game aside... We are a deeply democratic and political country and in a democracy, you can't have elections. Elections are sacrosanct," he said.
In reference to the country's healthcare infrastructure, he added: "The healthcare system stands exposed. It is very clear that for 75 years, we have under-invested in health.
"In fact, it is that realisation which is why the Prime Minister was pushing for Ayushman Bharat. We had reached a stage where the Prime Minister genuinely believed that we cannot leave our people to the vagaries of the private practitioners, however good they may be."
"There has to be a strong governmental system... health is a basic right. But in a crisis today, people don't want policy explanations. They want to see practical answers on the ground," he said.
On the central theme of the discussion, S Jaishankar stressed that India has not one but many plans to move the country towards revival mode.
"This second wave is a test of fire we have to come through, but the economic foundations are strong. We will carry the reforms process forward," he said.
"Yes, we have a plan in the sense that we are responding to the immediacy of the second wave - oxygen, medicines, healthcare support systems - but the plan beyond that is to expand vaccinations. Vaccination is the way out of COVID. It's not a silver bullet but it's as close as anybody can come to it," he said.
"India has not just one but many plans and our job is to get them all done," he added.