India offers vaccines, medical supplies to support African countries hit by Omicron variant

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India on Monday offered to supply Covid-19 vaccines, life-saving drugs, test kits and medical equipment to African countries to fight the new Omicron variant of the Coronavirus.

Omicron has been designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO), based on evidence that it has several mutations that may impact how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes.

“The government of India stands ready to support the countries affected in Africa in dealing with the Omicron variant, including by supplies of made-in-India vaccines,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement, adding that supplies can be delivered through the WHO-backed COVAX facility or bilaterally.

“India also stands ready to supply essential life-saving drugs, test kits, gloves, PPE kits and medical equipment such as ventilators, as may be required,” the statement said.

Indian institutions will “favourably consider cooperation in genomic surveillance and virus characterisation related research work” with African counterparts.

The statement noted that the Indian government has cleared all orders placed so far by COVAX for supplies of the Covishield vaccine, including to African countries such as Malawi, Ethiopia, Zambia, Mozambique, Guinea and Lesotho.

The government also cleared supplies of Covaxin to Botswana, and any new requirement projected bilaterally or through COVAX will be considered expeditiously, according to the statement.

India expressed solidarity with countries, particularly in Africa, that have so far been affected by the Omicron variant.

India has so far supplied more than 25 million doses of made-in-India vaccines to 41 countries in Africa, including nearly one million doses as grants to 16 countries and more than 16 million doses under the COVAX facility to 33 countries.

The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa. WHO has said it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible than other variants such as Delta. The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, and epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.

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