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India's Ambassador Says The Fight Against The Covid Pandemic Is A Work In Progress


India is struggling with a record spike in COVID-19. The health ministry today confirmed more than 150,000 new cases and 630 new deaths. That is the most deaths in one day since November. Now, India is home to the largest vaccine-maker in the world, the Serum Institute. But to date, the country has vaccinated less than 6% of its own population against COVID-19. Here to talk about this and other issues is India's ambassador to the United States, Taranjit Singh Sandhu.

Welcome, Ambassador.

TARANJIT SINGH SANDHU: Hi. Good to be with you.

CHANG: Good to have you with us today.

Now, India has been exporting vaccines to other countries. But earlier today, the Serum Institute, which I just mentioned, which makes the AstraZeneca vaccine, said it is, quote, "very stressed" and cannot provide for every Indian. So let me ask you, what preparations are underway right now to work around this and to make sure your country does get vaccinated?

SINGH SANDHU: I think we do need to get a broader and overall view in this. You know, right from the start, this, as you know, is an unprecedented pandemic, not just in India, but also in the United States and Europe and many other countries we are seeing that it's been going up and down. Now, in India, we have had a combination of strategies. Under the leadership of my prime minister, we went in for early lockdowns. We have had enhanced testing, enforcement of social distancing, the other COVID-19 protocols. It has been a phased unlocking of the key areas. So in that sense, you know, it's been a work in progress. Now, of course, there are a variety of reasons. Just like here, we are witnessing the (unintelligible) presence of mutant strains, et cetera. But do keep in mind it's a country of 1.3 billion people.

CHANG: Well, in order to ensure more vaccine supply, has India, in fact, paused vaccine exports?

SINGH SANDHU: I would, I think, not say that. We started our vaccination program on 16 January, and we also commenced helping other countries. Now, it's very easy to say that we will help the world. But you have seen in practice, very few have been able to do. So while internally going in for our supply, we have also ensured that 65 million doses of made-in-India vaccines are supplied to over 80 countries. So right now, there is no specific plan. However, the domestic requirement is important, and the government of India is committed to meeting them.

CHANG: OK. Let's turn to climate change now. John Kerry, who is President Biden's climate envoy, was in India this week. And the day before his arrival, India's energy minister called the West's climate goals - I'm quoting here - "pie in the sky." Now, your country has not yet set a target for when it will be cutting emissions. Can you tell me, why is that?

SINGH SANDHU: Firstly, I think on climate change, you have to keep in mind that you are talking about a country of 1.35 billion people. There are poor people. There are domestic requirements. But despite that, you look at our climate index - look at the commitment to Paris agreement, that has been an article of faith for my prime minister. So this is not a - something which can overnight disappear. It's a transition, and India had been in the forefront. Certainly, we are part of the solution.

CHANG: Well, even China is cooperating with the U.S. and the European Union's goals. So India still is not. Can you tell me why?

SINGH SANDHU: As I have mentioned to you, that we are very much committed to working together with the U.S.'s new administration plus with all the other partners. So when you say that India is not working on its commitment, you have to look at the facts. We are one of the countries which is actually - despite the fact that - and I am again repeating to you - that there are huge energy requirements, India is definitely right in front in ensuring that all that is the green part, the renewable - we have the largest renewable projects which are undertaking. But you know the world over there are lots of issues regarding climate finance, et cetera. The promises that you are given are not been kept. So it's a part - it's a work in progress. I can certainly mention to you that India and the prime minister of India are fully committed to working together with the world.

CHANG: Taranjit Singh Sandhu is India's ambassador to the United States.

Thank you very much for joining us today.

SINGH SANDHU: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be with you.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In this story, we incorrectly say there were more than 150,000 new coronavirus cases confirmed in one day in India. The correct number is 115,000 cases.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: April 8, 2021 at 11:00 PM CDT
In this story, we incorrectly say there were more than 150,000 new coronavirus cases confirmed in one day in India. The correct number is 115,000 cases.