India begins Covid-19 vaccine exports to Brazil and Morocco, and donates doses to Myanmar

Workers unload a delivery of Covid-19 vaccines from India to Myanmar, at Yangon International Airport, on Jan 22, 2021. PHOTO: AFP/EMBASSY OF INDIA, YANGON

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - India will begin commercial shipments of Covid-19 vaccines to Brazil and Morocco on Friday (Jan 22), followed by Saudi Arabia and South Africa, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi attempts to burnish his credentials as a key global leader.

"There's huge international demand for our vaccines," Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla told Bloomberg TV in an interview. "We expect to see more global players cooperating with their Indian counterparts in the pharma and healthcare sectors. This is likely to go beyond shifting parts of supply chains to India. We expect to see collaborations, manufacturing and R&D tie ups in this field."

Last year, the prime minister had said India's vaccine delivery and manufacturing capacity "would be used to help all of humanity to fight the Covid-19 pandemic and it's in keeping with this vision that we have responded positively to requests for supply of Indian manufactured vaccines from countries all over the world," Mr Shringla said.

Brazil has the world's third largest coronavirus epidemic, behind India and the US, and has made a late start to its vaccination campaign, lagging Latin American peers including Mexico and Argentina.

India began its domestic coronavirus vaccine roll-out on Jan 16 using a mix of Serum Institute of India Ltd's Covishield, a shot developed by AstraZeneca Plc, and an indigenously produced inoculation developed by Bharat Biotech International Ltd.

"We have to of course bear in mind that our external commitments have to be calibrated against existing production capacity and the requirements of our own immunisation campaign," Mr Shringla said.

Meanwhile Myanmar on Friday received 1.5 million doses of vaccine supplied by India to inoculate 750,000 people, the first vaccine batch delivered to the country as it fights one of the worst Covid-19 outbreaks in South-east Asia.

India is donating millions of doses of vaccines to a string of countries in Asia, drawing praise from neighbours and pushing back against China's dominating presence in the region.

Shipments of AstraZeneca's vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, the world's biggest producer of vaccines, have already gone to the Maldives, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

Myanmar was among the countries next in line to get free consignments as India moved before China, which has also pledged to supply vaccines to its neighbour.

"This is a gift from India to Myanmar," Mr Saurabh Kumar, India's ambassador to Myanmar, told reporters at Yangon airport, where he oversaw the arrival of the vaccine.

Myanmar health ministry spokeswoman Khin Khin Gyi said the vaccine would be kept in Yangon in special refrigerated rooms before being rolled out next week. "Healthcare workers will be first priority and elderly people will be next," she said, noting Myanmar has more than 110,000 medical workers.

Despite the arrival of vaccines, Ms Khin Khin Gyi urged people in Myanmar not to get complacent and follow health protocols to prevent further spread of the virus.

In a post on an official government Facebook page, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged "all our people to support us to make all Covid-19 control and treatment programmes a success".

After containing the number of Covid-19 cases at the beginning of the pandemic, Myanmar is now struggling with a second wave, recording more than 136,000 cases and 3,000 deaths.

The number of daily new cases has dropped recently, though medical experts say it is unlikely to provide a full picture given relatively low testing rates.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a visit last week promised Myanmar 300,000 doses of a Chinese Covid-19 vaccine.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.