PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Mar. 22, CMC – Indian High Commissioner Arun Kumar Sahu has said Trinidad and Tobago could still get a donation of COVID-19 vaccines from his country, but no date has been given for when that will happen.
His comments came ahead of a meeting between him and Foreign and CARICOM Affairs Minister Senator Dr. Emery Browne, who said the discussions were fruitful and the two sides had agreed to work together on the vaccine issue.
Sahu’s comments on Sunday came as he and Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley disagreed publicly over whether a vaccine facility was made available to Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states.
In a statement on Sunday, in which he said he noted the “controversy around India’s possible vaccine donation to Trinidad and Tobago and the role of the High Commissioner in it”, the diplomat said the twin-island republic’s request for a vaccine donation may have been too late, but efforts will still be made to assist.
“Keeping in view the long-standing historical, cultural and people-to-people contacts between India and Trinidad and Tobago, efforts are being made to supply some vaccines to T&T. However, no time frame could be indicated at this stage,” Sahu said.
Last week, Prime Minister Rowley said he had checked and found that no member nation of CARICOM, which he currently chairs, had been officially told of the 500,000 COVID-19 vaccines on offer from India.
He said he had been informed by the CARICOM Secretariat that the Indian High Commissioner in Guyana was reported in the Guyanese media as saying the vaccines would be made available to the region.
Rowley said the Secretariat also informed him that arrangements were bilateral and that “each High Commissioner would be responsible to the countries to which he or she is accredited”.
However, he noted, Sahu “did not speak to the Government about it”.
Rowley’s comments triggered a response from the diplomat who was quoted in the local media as saying that he had been “personally attack(ed)” by the Prime Minister’s statements.
However, in his statement on Sunday, Sahu sought to clarify the timeline of events surrounding the offer of the donations and his role in communicating it.
He pointed out that India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced since September 26, 2020, at the 75th UN General Assembly, that as the largest vaccine-producing country in the world, India’s vaccine production and delivery capacity would be used to help all humanity in fighting the COVID-19 crisis.
Subsequently, the High Commissioner said, both Modi and External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar talked about the Vaccine Maitri initiative of India on multiple occasions, and it had been reported extensively in both the local and international media.
Sahu explained that following requests from various heads of governments for the supply of Indian-manufactured vaccines, the government started the supply on January 20, 2021. He noted that, to date, India has supplied vaccines to 72 nations, including Dominica whose Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit wrote requesting a donation on January 19 and received doses last month.
According to the High Commissioner, Trinidad and Tobago’s Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh and Minister Browne on February 15 reached out to him separately, to explore the possibility of getting the AstraZeneca vaccines from India.
“To both, the High Commissioner conveyed two clear options: T&T government can request the Government of India (GOI) for a donation of vaccine, for which a request at the highest level to PM Modi might be considered; [or] T&T can directly explore a commercial purchase of the vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII). Since it is a commercial deal, GOI will have a minimal role, only facilitating export approval. The relevant T&T authority could enter into a commercial agreement with SII. A copy of the deal could be shared with the High Commission so that we could help get expeditious export approval. High Commissioner also made it clear that it will not be easy since there is a tremendous global demand,” Sahu’s statement said.
“On February 16, the High Commission received Foreign Minister Dr Browne’s letter to his counterpart Dr S Jaishankar requesting assistance in access for purchase and receipt of 250,000 doses of vaccine from SII.
“On February 23, the High Commissioner was called to the Foreign Office for a quick meeting. He was informed that SII was not taking any commercial order at that time, and his assistance was sought in getting some vaccine donation. High Commissioner suggested that, even though it is very late, T&T may like to make a request for a donation at a suitable level. He also conveyed that given the historical, cultural and friendly relations with the people and government of T&T, but subject to domestic demand and other international commitments, we will go an extra mile to make an effort to get some vaccines. He was told that a letter would be sent,” he added.
In a statement issued at the end of his meeting with Sahu on Monday, the Foreign and CARICOM Minister said they had “very candid, friendly and comprehensive discussions” on the bilateral relationship between the two nations.
He said access to vaccines was among the matters discussed, and “there was consensus that the two countries would work even closer together on this matter”.
Other sectors of interest were also identified for the enhancement of the bilateral cooperation between Trinidad and Tobago and India such as pharmaceuticals and health care, Information and Communication Technology (ICT), Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES), renewable energy, and agriculture.
“The meeting was successful and conducted in the best interests of the longstanding ties that bind our two nations,” Browne’s statement concluded.