Britain is to send a further 1,000 ventilators to India to help its struggling healthcare system deal with a surge in coronavirus infections that is killing thousands every day.
Boris Johnson promised that “the UK will always be there for India” as he committed fresh assistance, including advice from NHS staff and the government’s chief medical and science advisers, Prof Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance.
The prime minister made the pledge ahead of a call on Tuesday with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, arranged to replace his visit to New Delhi which was cancelled as cases spiralled. They will discuss deepening cooperation between the UK and India, including a new 10-year enhanced economic partnership seen as a precursor to a free trade deal.
The 1,000 ventilators from the UK’s surplus supply are in addition to 200 sent last week in shipments that included nearly 500 oxygen concentrators.
Whitty and Vallance have spoken to their Indian counterparts to share the expertise they have gained during the UK’s battle with the disease.
India has recorded more than 390,000 new infections and 3,689 deaths over the past 24-hour period, raising the overall death toll to more than 215,500.
In a statement, Johnson said: “The terrible images we have seen in India in recent weeks are all the more powerful because of the close and enduring connection between the people of the UK and India.
“I am deeply moved by the surge of support the British people have provided to the people of India and am pleased the UK government has been able to play our part in providing life-saving assistance.
“The UK will always be there for India in its time of need.”
NHS England is establishing a clinical advisory group to support India’s response by sharing knowledge on how to manage outbreaks.
Earlier in the day, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said the UK would “look very carefully” at any request for vaccine from India.
The cabinet minister will meet his Indian counterpart, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, on Monday as he hosts face-to-face meetings with G7 foreign ministers. The Indian foreign ministry has been pressing G7 leaders to relax patent rules to allow the more widespread production of vaccines but the idea has been rejected in west. India ironically has been the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, but has found itself short partly due to the large number that are committed for exports.
Raab said the government has not had a request for vaccine from New Delhi.
“We’ll always look very carefully at any requests we’ve got,” he told The Andrew Marr Show.
Lisa Nandy, the shadow foreign secretary, said the government should aim to send jabs to India “as soon as possible”, but that the UK programme should not be paused to do so.
“We haven’t defeated this virus in Britain yet and we need to keep up the momentum with that vaccination programme,” she told Marr on the BBC.
“This is a question that is really personal to me. I just found out last night that a close family member in India is in hospital with Covid and I’ve got family members here in the UK who are deeply affected by Covid as well.”
A UK order of 5m AstraZeneca doses has been stalled in India by a need for retesting and there have been questions over whether the government may allow them to be used there.
Prof Peter Openshaw, an immunologist who advises the government, said it would be a “very reasonable arrangement” to allow India to keep those jabs.
But he added: “It’s a matter of balancing what we have available to our own population and what we can distribute equitably around the world through these well-organised systems that are in place.”