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Facing shortages, India bets on China for swift ramp-up of protective health gear: Sources

India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts say the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system.

March 31, 2020 / 12:54 PM IST
Representative Image (Image by Alan Drummond, a physician and coroner in a rural United States hospital via Twitter on March 18)

Representative Image (Image by Alan Drummond, a physician and coroner in a rural United States hospital via Twitter on March 18)

India will buy ventilators and masks from China to help it deal with the coronavirus, a government official said on Tuesday, even though some countries in Europe had complained about the quality of the equipment.

India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts say the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government said it was trying to procure medical gear, including masks and body coveralls, both from domestic firms and from countries like South Korea and China, to meet shortages.

"China, definitely we are going to buy ... Because scaling up our domestic production will take time," said a top Indian policy official aware of the plan, who declined to be identified due to sensitivity of the discussions.

The Netherlands has recalled thousands of masks imported from China because of quality issues, while Spain has complained about defective imported test kits supplied by a Chinese manufacturer, media have reported.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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China's foreign ministry said several countries had raised doubts about the quality of products imported from China, and acknowledged that there might be some problems.

"A large number of Chinese manufacturers are working around the clock to help other countries save lives. Our sincerity and assistance is real. If problems occur in this process, the Chinese side will talk to relevant departments," China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a news conference on Monday.

A second source with direct knowledge of Indian government plans said Chinese manufacturers had shown keen interest in supplying protective health gear to India, lodging queries with Indian diplomatic missions in Shanghai and Beijing.

China was emerging as a favourite possible supplier at this stage as new virus infections were slowing there and its factories were being pushed to reopen, the second source said.

India needs at least 38 million masks and 6.2 million pieces of personal protective equipment as it confronts the spread of coronavirus, according to a report by its investment agency seen by Reuters.

But Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) an influential Hindu nationalist group close to Modi's party, said India should look at domestic alternatives because of widespread concern over the quality of China's equipment.

"I don't think we need Chinese support of any kind for our healthcare ... Even if Indian firms produce at a higher cost, it doesn't matter," Ashwani Mahajan, a national co-convenor of the SJM, told Reuters.
Reuters
first published: Mar 31, 2020 12:26 pm

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