The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has said plans to send aid to India, which is grappling with a massive second wave of Covid-19 cases and deaths, are at an "advanced stage", with Irish officials working throughout the weekend on efforts to deliver support to the subcontinent.
A DFA spokesman said on Sunday afternoon that “given the urgency of the pandemic situation in India”, department staff were working with the health department, the HSE and the EU Civilian Protection Mechanism to figure out how best to send India support.
“These efforts are at an advanced stage and we will soon provide a formal announcement,” he told The Irish Times, adding that the department was in contact with the relevant Indian authorities.
Earlier on Sunday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told RTÉ’s This Week programme that the Government was “assessing” what it could share with India with a particular focus on oxygen and ventilators. Mr Coveney said it was likely India would be added to the State’s mandatory hotel quarantine list very shortly.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar tweeted on Sunday that India was "facing a terrible second wave causing suffering beyond our comprehension". He paid tribute to Indian healthcare workers in Ireland before writing that the Government was assessing plans to send oxygen and ventilators to the country.
This commitment comes as the European Commission announced it was also planning to send oxygen and medicine to the country following a request from Delhi. India has set a new global record for the most number of coronavirus infections in a day while the United States says it is racing to send help to the country.
India’s number of cases surged by 349,691 in the past 24 hours, the fourth straight day of record peaks, and hospitals in Delhi and across the country are turning away patients after running out of medical oxygen and beds.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on Sunday that she was “alarmed by the epidemiological situation in India” and that the EU was ready to offer support. “The EU is pooling resources to respond rapidly to India’s request for assistance via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism,” she wrote. “We stand in full solidarity with the Indian people,” she added.
Speaking in a radio address on Saturday, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi urged all citizens to be vaccinated and exercise caution, saying a “storm” of infections had “shaken the nation.”
Varghese Joy, a HSE nurse and national convenor of the Migrant Nurses Ireland organisation, said he had found it “distressing” and “disheartening” to watch the videos and news reports emerging from his home country and called on the EU and Irish Government to support the Indian healthcare system in “any way they can”.
“The whole world needs to act,” he said. “India’s situation can impact nearby countries, that double mutant variant can travel. This virus has no borders, you cannot contain it. Everyone is in danger so everyone should help.”
Mr Joy, who has lived in Ireland since 2007, recalled watching one video of a man in the city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat driving his young wife from hospital to hospital, begging for help. “Doctors came out of the hospitals and tried to help but they couldn’t admit her, there were no beds or oxygen. Finally she died, I was very tearful watching those images.”
He has also read the reports of hundreds of bodies being burned being cremated in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state and the worst affected part of the country. "It's absolutely shocking. You can feel the healthcare workers' pain. If you have a patient in from of you and can't offer them a bed you feel worthless. I've seen lots of videos of doctors from Mumbai and Delhi crying and appealing to the central government for oxygen. It's like watching those videos last year of American healthcare workers asking for PPE but much, much worse."
Mr Joy is from Kerala, the southern Indian state which is one of the only parts of the country, along with neighbouring Tamil Nadu, which has been spared this second Covid-19 wave. The Times of India reported this weekend that both states had "learnt important lessons from the last surge and stand out for their public health approach in tackling the pandemic". Mr Joy says Kerala has spent decades building its public health infrastructure which is far more developed than most other hospitals around the country. "Kerala has always invested in public health and vaccination programmes like the polio vaccine. That has made a huge difference.
“Kerala is doing well and is now helping nearby states with their oxygen supply.”