As reported earlier, last year in April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had assured Prime Minister of Bhutan Dr Lotay Tshering of all possible support to deal with the COVID-19 situation and beyond.
According to officials, under its ‘science diplomacy’ initiative for strengthening clinical trial capacity for Phase-III clinical trials of Indian COVID-19 vaccine candidates in neighbouring countries, e-training courses are being organized by the Department of Biotechnology. And, also training courses for medical health professionals from the neighbouring countries. Until now, three such e-courses have been completed.
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To meet the emerging challenges caused by COVID-19, Financial Express Online has reported earlier that on the request of the Royal Government of Bhutan, the Indian government has expedited the release of Rs 501 Crore for their reprioritized projects. This is in addition to other fund releases for the ongoing projects.
Despite COVID-19 related lock-downs, keeping in line with its unique and special relations with Bhutan, India has ensured continuous supply of trade and essential items. India has also provided essential medicines and medical supplies- including Hydroxychloroquine, Paracetamol, PPEs, N95 masks, X-ray machine and test kits worth over Rs 2.8 Core.
It has entered into an “Air Travel Arrangement” or “Transport Bubble” agreement with Bhutan and so far has facilitated the repatriation of over 2000 Bhutanese nationals stranded in various parts of the country. Through Vande Bharat flights India has helped in the repatriation of 14 Bhutanese nationals stranded in third countries.
For further facilitating trade and transit during COVID times new trade route via Torsha Tea Garden (India) and Ahllay (Bhutan) have been opened and new trade points at Nagarkata, Agartala, and Pandu & Jogighopa riverine ports are expected to operational soon.
For export of Bhutanese agri-products like mandarin, potato, apple, areca nut, and ginger to India, formal market access was granted in October last. And Indian agri-products like okra, onion, tomato were granted formal market access to Bhutan. And to facilitate exports of agricultural products from Bhutan to India, the first Plant Quarantine office on the India-Bhutan border was opened at the Land Customs Station in Jaigaon.
India – Maldives
A consignment containing 100,000 doses of COVISHIELD vaccines manufactured by the SII have left for Male and will be reaching there later today.
When Prime Minister Modi visited the Maldives in June 2019 he had rightly said ‘Neighbourhood First is our priority, and in the Neighbourhood Maldives is priority’.
The vaccines that are being delivered to the Maldives fulfils the commitment made by Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla during his visit to that country in last November.
The government of the Maldives is going to purchase around 300,000 doses of vaccines from SII later. Since it has a population of about 500,000, the donation from India is expected to cover the vaccination requirement of a significant percentage of the population.
Among all neighbours, Maldives was the first and one of the largest beneficiaries of India’s COVID related assistance.
According to officials, this includes the supply of essential medicines and food items, assistance in the evacuation of Maldives nationals from Wuhan. And most importantly the deployment of a 14 member Rapid Response Team consisting of doctors and paramedics in March 2020. This team was sent to guide and train the Maldivian authorities and personnel in the fight against the global pandemic of Coronavirus.
`Operation Sanjeevani’ was launched in April 2020 to help meet the medicine requirements of Maldives and a special IAF plane had airlifted 6.2 tonnes of essential medical supplies from India to that country.
Also in May 2020, under Mission SAGAR, Male was the first port of call for Indian Navy Ship Kesari which delivered about 600 tons of food items ensuring food security.
Air travel bubble
-Since tourism is the main revenue earner for that country air travel bubble was created with the Maldives in August 2020, making it the first country in South Asia with which an air travel bubble was established.
This has helped in reviving its tourism industry and boosting its economy.
Now, India has now replaced China as the number one tourist source in the Maldives.
Financial assistance of USD 250 million
In September 2020, India had extended urgent financial assistance of USD 250 million through investment by State Bank of India in the Government of Maldives bonds.
Ferry Service between India and the Maldives
A direct cargo ferry service between the two countries has been launched which would help in boosting bilateral trade. This has helped in ensuring ensured food security to the Maldives and strengthening the people-to-people contact.