Boris Johnson
PC : Reuters

ritish Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a virtual meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday to agree a “huge range” of commitments to deepen cooperation between the two countries, including on combating the coronavirus pandemic, Downing Street said on Sunday.

The government confirmed the talks schedule as it said that 1,000 more ventilators will be sent from the UK’s surplus supply to Indian hospitals to help the most severe COVID cases, in addition to 200 ventilators, 495 oxygen concentrators and three oxygen generation units the UK announced as part of the assistance package last week.

“On Tuesday the Prime Minister will hold a virtual meeting with Prime Minister Modi to agree a huge range of commitments to deepen cooperation between the UK and India, including on fighting the coronavirus pandemic,” Downing Street said.

“During his call with Prime Minister Modi, the Prime Minister will emphasise the importance of working with India to promote our shared values,” it added.

Besides the offer of much-needed equipment, the UK government said that England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance have spoken to their Indian counterparts to provide advice, insight and expertise to the Indian healthcare system as it deals with one of the world’s worse surges in COVID levels. It has been agreed that the National Health Service (NHS) is to establish a clinical advisory group led by NHS England Chief People Officer Prerana Isaar to support India’s COVID response.

“The UK will always be there for India in its time of need,” said Johnson.

“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,” he said.

The new NHS advisory group effort will work with Indian institutions such as the All India Institute of Medical Services (AIIMS) to share experience on managing COVID outbreaks. The group will include researchers in public and global health, alongside nursing and other health professionals who have experience of the Indian healthcare system.

“This support will help urgently meet some of India’s acute needs, particularly oxygen for patients. We are determined to help our Indian friends in their hour of need,” said UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who will be hosting External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in Britain for the G7 Foreign and Development Ministers Meeting and bilateral talks next week.

“We need to all work together to defeat Covid-19. No one is safe until we are all safe,” Raab said.

The UK government has welcomed the “powerful demonstration” of what Modi calls the diaspora “living bridge” between India and the UK, with British people coming to the support of India in huge numbers.

“Businesses, civil society and the wider public have responded to appeals for help and launched funding drives. This includes the British Asian Trust’s ‘Oxygen for India’ emergency appeal, which is raising funds for oxygen concentrators to be rapidly deployed to Indian hospitals. The BAT appeal, which has been personally backed by the Prince of Wales, has raised more than GBP 1.5 million in the last week,” the government said.

Virgin Atlantic also flew 200 boxes of oxygen concentrators to Delhi on Saturday, after partnering with Khalsa Aid. Further cargo space will be given free of charge on six flights to India in the next week, in association with the Red Cross.

“India has also provided support to the UK throughout the coronavirus pandemic. As the ‘pharmacy of the world’ the country has kept its borders open to supply the UK with vital medicine and PPE [personal protective equipment] – exporting over 11 million face masks and 3 million packets of paracetamol over the course of 2020,” Downing Street said.

It added that the world is “safer and stronger” because of work between the UK and India, using the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine as an example, which was developed in the UK, is currently being produced in the millions by India’s Serum Institute and will be distributed to the world at cost through COVAX – the global equitable vaccine access facility.

“It is those shared values of openness and the pursuit of knowledge and scientific advancement for the betterment of our societies that lie at the heart of the relationship between the UK and India,” Downing Street said.

“India is the largest democracy in the world, a fellow Commonwealth country and in June Prime Minister Modi will travel to the UK to attend the G7 Summit as a guest – one of four world leaders invited to join the Summit of leading democracies,” it added.