In the wake of India’s COVID-19 crisis, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Tuesday said Canada is pledging $10 million to the Indian Red Cross as well as providing personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators to the country.
But experts warn it’s not enough for a country of 1.4 billion people, which is experiencing a humanitarian crisis so large that oxygen, ventilators and hospital beds are drying up, leaving patients dying in their cars, just outside hospital doors.
“Ten million and a few ventilators is a drop in the bucket,” said Rajshri Jayaraman, an associate economics professor at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy. “For a country that size, and where daily case counties have reached over 300,000 — which is probably a massive underestimation — $10 million is just not going to get you very far.”
However, Jayaraman said that Canada’s pledge to give finances and medical equipment is still a nice gesture, as it makes India not feel alone during the crisis.
But as India’s healthcare system verges on the brink of collapse, Jayaraman argues it’s imperative that countries, like Canada, do more, as the pandemic is not fully over until it’s under control globally.
What more can Canada do?
Dr. Srinivas Murthy, an associate professor with the faculty of medicine at the University of British Columbia, believes Canada should be sending more money to charities like the Indian Red Cross, as it also helps feed impoverished families who are experiencing the worst of the crisis.
“Money is the main thing right now. In short term, it gives people enough food, it clothes children, and helps society get through this,” he said.
Canada has also pledged to send ventilators but did not specify how many. But Murthy said, that without oxygen there “is no real point” in sending ventilators.
The federal government may be sending them on the assumption that other nations will step up and send oxygen supplies, he added.
And this has started to happen.
On Tuesday, the United Kingdom sent 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators to the country’s capital, New Delhi.
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France is sending eight large oxygen-generating plants this week while Ireland, Germany and Australia are dispatching oxygen concentrators and ventilators, an Indian foreign ministry official said, underlining the crucial need for oxygen.
Canada can send oxygen to India, but Murthy said that logistically it’s very complex to do, especially when overseas.
“Sending cylinders of oxygen from Canada is problematic,” he said. “It can be done but requires a lot of coordination.”
While donating more funds to India may help the crisis, Jayaraman said because Canada is home to so many Indo-Canadians, this may be a more efficient way to help the crisis.
Many Canadians want to help the situation in India, but don’t know how, she said.
“We have a large Indian diaspora in this country that is very well connected to their families and friends back home. I think the more helpful thing for the Canadian government to do, is to try and help the Indian community help their family and friends,” Jayaraman said.
It could be as simple as helping to facilitate remittances from Indo-Canadians to family and friends back in India, she added.
“I can tell you intercontinental money transfers are not entirely straightforward,” she said.
Although some experts argue that Canada should be doing more, Balpreet Singh, legal counsel and spokesperson for the World Sikh Organization of Canada, said the donation is “generous” and the onus of responsibility lays with the Indian government.
“I think Canada has made some generous offers of assistance, as have countries across the world. It’s just mainly an issue now with the government of India having to step up and make use of these offers of assistance and develop an actual plan,” Singh said.
He added that India’s response to the crisis, so far, has been “very haphazard” and the government seems to “want to run the course and hope for the best. That’s going to cause a lot more deaths and a lot more pain. And I’m just hoping that the government steps up its act and it provides a proper response.”
Jayarama agreed, saying Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has “failed utterly” at leading the country out of a second COVID-19 wave.
The country was so confident it has avoided catastrophe that it sent 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in early March.
“In February, India had a very low number of cases in proportion to population. At this stage, India was doing a little victory lap, but they should not have sent the vaccines,” Jayaraman said.
Now the country is running out of vaccines.
On Friday, India reported all vaccination centers in Mumbai are shut for three days starting Friday due to a shortage of vaccines.
India is the world’s biggest producer of vaccines but does not have enough stockpiles to keep up with the second deadly COVID-19 wave. Only about nine per cent of India’s 1.4 billion people have received a vaccine dose since January.
Nations like Canada should now be looking at sending vaccines to India, Jayaraman said, adding that the pandemic is not over until it’s combated globally.
“I think a much more fundamental thing is to wake up and understand that we’re only as strong as our weakest link,” she said. “Whether this virus is raging in India or Brazil, or anywhere else, we are never are going to be able to get out of this pandemic.”
— with files from Reuters