Friend in deed: How Saudi oxygen will save lives in COVID-19-ravaged India

Oxygen tanks are loaded in Saudi Arabia's eastern port city of Dammam onto a ship bound for Gujarat, India on April 24, 2021. (Indian Embassy photo via Twitter)
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Oxygen tanks are loaded in Saudi Arabia's eastern port city of Dammam onto a ship bound for Gujarat, India on April 24, 2021. (Indian Embassy photo via Twitter)
A Covid-19 coronavirus patient leaves a hospital in New Delhi on April 24, 2021. (AFP)
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A Covid-19 coronavirus patient leaves a hospital in New Delhi on April 24, 2021. (AFP)
India has taken delivery of about 80 metric tons of oxygen from Saudi Arabia to help alleviate its acute shortage of the emergency gas amid a deadly COVID-19 wave. (Supplied)
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India has taken delivery of about 80 metric tons of oxygen from Saudi Arabia to help alleviate its acute shortage of the emergency gas amid a deadly COVID-19 wave. (Supplied)
A patient breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara inside an auto rickshaw in Ghaziabad. (AFP)
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A patient breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, inside an auto rickshaw in Ghaziabad. (AFP)
COVID-19 coronavirus patients breathe with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara in Ghaziabad. (AFP)
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COVID-19 coronavirus patients breathe with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara in Ghaziabad. (AFP)
Oxygen tanks are loaded in Saudi Arabia's eastern port city of Dammam onto a ship bound for Gujarat, India on April 24, 2021. (Indian Embassy photo via Twitter)
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Updated 30 April 2021

Friend in deed: How Saudi oxygen will save lives in COVID-19-ravaged India

A Covid-19 coronavirus patient leaves a hospital in New Delhi on April 24, 2021. (AFP)
  • Oxygen deliveries from the Kingdom to ease shortage of life-saving gas amid a deadly surge in cases
  • Cooperation during the pandemic has further strengthened ties between India and Saudi Arabia

NEW DELHI: Reeling from a devastating wave of coronavirus cases, India has taken delivery of about 80 metric tons of oxygen from Saudi Arabia to help alleviate a critical shortage of the emergency gas.

Images of the first consignment of cryogenic tanks and medical-grade oxygen cylinders destined for an Indian port prompted an outpouring of gratitude and relief on Indian social media.

The acute shortage of oxygen in India underlines the severity of the coronavirus crisis ravaging the world’s second most populous country. Fragile supply chains have failed to keep pace with surging demand, piling pressure on health systems, crematoriums and the federal government.

India has recorded almost 18.7 million COVID-19 cases — second only to the US — and more than 207,000 fatalities to date. Under the circumstances, the Saudi oxygen shipment materialized not a moment too soon.

Trade and cultural links between ancient India and the Arab region go back almost 5,000 years. Formal diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Riyadh were established soon after India gained independence in 1947. Today Saudi Arabia is one of the largest suppliers of oil to India as well as one of its top trading partners.

The bilateral relationship reached new heights in February 2019 when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman paid a visit to New Delhi. The two sides signed investment deals worth $100 billion in the fields of energy, refining, petrochemical, infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing. A proposed Strategic Partnership Council came to fruition in October that year.

Since last year, the pandemic has converted relations between India and Saudi Arabia into a classic example of “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” As the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the Serum Institute of India (SII), a Pune-based biotechnology and pharmaceuticals company, has so far supplied Saudi Arabia with 3 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot.

But now India itself has appealed to friendly nations to make up for the massive shortfall of medical supplies. They have responded by sending liquid oxygen, oxygen concentrators and cryogenic oxygen tanks, diagnostic test kits, ventilators and personal protective equipment. Additionally, the US has “identified sources of specific raw material urgently required for Indian manufacture of the Covishield (Oxford-AstraZeneca) vaccine.”

As of this week, Gujarat alone was recording at least 100 deaths and about 15,000 new COVID-19 cases every day. The situation in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state is now so precarious that hospitals are forced to turn patients away, unable to offer beds or sufficient oxygen.

To alleviate the pressure on hospitals, Gujarat’s mosques have established their own COVID-19 wards, fitted out with oxygen tanks donated by regional allies to help people in acute respiratory distress. The Darul Uloom Mosque in the city of Vadodara has capacity for more than 1,000 beds, but is having to limit its patient intake owing to the state’s severe shortage of oxygen.

“We are running just 142 beds, out of which only 120 beds have oxygen fittings,” Ashfaq Malek Tandalja, a member of Darul Uloom’s managing committee, told Arab News. “In the first wave of COVID-19, we were running a 1,000-bed facility, but this time we are not doing so because of the lack of oxygen in the state.”

Tandalja added: “With oxygen coming from Saudi Arabia and other countries, we are able to think of expanding the facilities. And in the coming days we would like to do that, because people need more beds.

“Saudi Arabia has responded to the crisis India is facing and is helping us with oxygen. This will save many lives and families.”




India has taken delivery of about 80 metric tons of oxygen from Saudi Arabia to help alleviate its acute shortage of the emergency gas amid a deadly COVID-19 wave. (Supplied)

On Wednesday, Indian authorities reported a daily record of more than 360,000 new COVID-19 cases and around 3,050 deaths nationwide — although many believe the true figure is much higher.

The rate of new cases has accelerated in recent weeks as the densely populated nation of 1.3 billion people grapples with a far more aggressive second wave. The capital New Delhi, which went into strict lockdown a week ago, is among the worst affected, with an infection rate of roughly 36 percent.

Last week, at least 50 critically ill patients died in two of the city’s hospitals due to oxygen shortages. Mahendra Chouhan lost his wife on Sunday as he searched for oxygen or a hospital bed. “I ran from pillar to post to find oxygen. But by the time I got it, my wife had collapsed,” he told Arab News.

“Saudi Arabia’s oxygen will save so many lives. The government needs support from foreign countries to survive the crisis.”




Family members and relatives carry the body of a victim who died of the Covid-19 coronavirus amid burning pyres of other victims at a cremation ground in New Delhi. (AFP)

Shortages are largely the result of logistical challenges and bureaucratic mismanagement, with supplies failing to reach areas most in need.

Although India is a significant oxygen producer, turning out roughly 7,000 metric tons a day, hospitals typically rely on trucks that travel long distances to replenish their stocks.

To make matters worse, another virus variation has emerged on the subcontinent with a so-called double mutation, raising doubts about the future effectiveness of India’s already sluggish vaccine rollout.

Even before the pandemic hit, India’s healthcare infrastructure was in no shape to meet demands of this magnitude. Now, the public health system has all but collapsed in many states.

“In Gujarat, the situation is really scary and there is chaos all around,” Dr. Mona Desai, president of Ahmedabad Medical Association, told Arab News. “Hospital beds and oxygen are in short supply, leading to the loss of many precious lives.”




Patients breath with the help of oxygen masks inside a banquet hall temporarily converted into a Covid-19 coronavirus ward in New Delhi on April 27, 2021. (AFP)

Hospitals in Ahmedabad, home to 5.5 million people, are buckling under a record surge of coronavirus cases. “Besides the lack of beds, the city is also gasping for oxygen,” Desai said.

“Saudi Arabia’s gesture will help in saving many lives. This support is coming at a time when India is reeling under a severe oxygen crisis.”

On April 25, Saudi Arabia sent the first shipment of four ISO cryogenic tanks from Dammam to the port of Mundra in Gujarat. The Saudi supply was sent in cooperation with Indian conglomerate Adani Group and British chemical multinational Linde.




Oxygen tanks are loaded in Saudi Arabia's eastern port city of Dammam onto a ship bound for Gujarat, India on April 24, 2021. (Indian Embassy photo via Twitter)

“The Embassy of India is proud to partner with Adani Group and Linde in shipping the much-needed 80 metric tons of liquid oxygen to India,” New Delhi’s diplomatic mission to Riyadh said via Twitter on Sunday, thanking the Kingdom’s Ministry of Health “for all its help, support and cooperation.”

Just two days earlier, India had launched its “oxygen maitri” or “oxygen friendship” campaign in an appeal to neighbors and allies to help it procure more of the lifesaving gas.

On April 23, India’s home ministry said it was in talks to buy high-capacity oxygen-carrying tanks. The following day, the Indian Air Force brought four cryogenic tanks from Singapore.




A Covid-19 coronavirus patient breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, under a tent installed along a roadside in Ghaziabad on April 28, 2021. (AFP)

“At a time when the whole country is facing acute oxygen shortages, leading to the deaths of hundreds of people, Saudi help is laudable,” Dr. Harijit Singh Bhatti, president of the New Delhi-based Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum, told Arab News.

“What is important now is to save as many lives as possible. The domestic supply of oxygen is being augmented. But before that, foreign support is crucial.”

There is little doubt that when the worst is over, India-Saudi relations will emerge as a friendship tested by time and circumstance.

Anil Wadhwa, a former diplomat and a senior fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation, a public policy think tank in New Delhi, said Riyadh’s gesture during this time of crisis “will create a more favorable impression of the Kingdom” in India.

“The Saudi government’s help is symbolic because it represents the readiness of the Gulf and Arab world to come to India’s aid in times of need.”

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Twitter: @destinydefier


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Updated 07 May 2021

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DUBAI: A Saudi foreign ministry official said on Friday that talks between Saudi Arabia and Iran aim to reduce regional tensions but that it was too early to judge the outcome and Riyadh wanted to see “verifiable deeds.”
The comments by Ambassador Rayed Krimly, head of policy planning at the ministry, were the first public confirmation from Riyadh that the rivals were holding direct talks.
“We hope they prove successful, but it is too early, and premature, to reach any definitive conclusions,” Krimly told Reuters.


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Updated 07 May 2021

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistani chief of army staff (COAS) General Qamar Javed Bajwa on Friday met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince, deputy prime minister and minister of defense of Saudi Arabia, and reviewed bilateral relations, Saudi state news agency SPA reported.

Bajwa arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan will also embark on a three-day visit to the Kingdom today.

The media wing of the Pakistani military said “matters of mutual interest, regional security situation including recent developments in Afghan Peace Process, bilateral defense, security, collaboration for regional peace and connectivity were discussed” during Friday’s meeting.

 

 

“COAS said that Pakistan is resolute in its commitment to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of KSA and defense of the two Holy Mosques. The Crown Prince acknowledged Pakistan’s role toward regional peace and stability,” the military said.

“The Crown Prince also said that the relations between KSA & Pakistan are based on bonds of brotherhood & mutual trust and both nations will continue to play their part for peace, stability & betterment of Muslim Ummah.”

SPA reported that the two leaders “reviewed bilateral relations, especially in the military and defense fields, and discussed opportunities for their development, in addition to a number of issues of common concern” during their meeting.

“The meeting was attended by His Royal Highness Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Minister of Defense, His Excellency the Minister of State, Member of the Council of Ministers, National Security Adviser Dr. Musaed bin Muhammad Al-Aiban, His Excellency the Head of General Intelligence, Mr. Khalid bin Ali Al-Humaidan, and the Ambassador of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques to Pakistan Mr. Nawwaf bin Saeed Maliki.”

On the Pakistani side, Pakistani ambassador to the kingdom, Lt. Gen. Bilal Akbar, the secretary to the army chief, Major General Muhammad Irfan, and the Defense Attaché of the Pakistani embassy in Riyadh, Brig. Gen. Harun Ishaq Raja, were present.

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  • Meetings with Saudi leadership to cover areas including economics, trade, investment and job opportunities for the Pakistani workforce

ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan will embark on a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia today, Friday, on the invitation of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
In meetings with the Saudi leadership, Khan will cover all areas of bilateral cooperation including economics, trade, investment, environment, energy, job opportunities for the Pakistani workforce, and the welfare of the Pakistani diaspora in the kingdom, the foreign office said. 
“The Prime Minister will be accompanied by a high-level delegation, including the Foreign Minister and other members of the Cabinet,” the foreign office said in a statement. 
During Khan’s visit, “the two sides will also exchange views on regional and international issues of mutual interest … A number of bilateral agreements/MoUs are expected to be signed during the visit.”
Khan will also meet the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, the Secretary General of the World Muslim League, Mohammad bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, and the Imams of the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Medina. 
“Prime Minister Imran Khan will also interact with the Pakistani diaspora in Jeddah,” the foreign office said.
“Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have long-standing and historic fraternal relations, rooted deep in common faith, shared history and mutual support. The relationship is marked by close cooperation in all fields and mutual collaboration on regional and international issues, in particular those faced by the Muslim Ummah,” the foreign office said, adding:
“​Saudi Arabia is home to more than two million Pakistanis, contributing toward the progress and prosperity of both countries. Regular high-level bilateral visits continue to play a pivotal role in providing impetus to the fraternal ties and close cooperation between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.”
Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa also visited Riyadh this week and on Wednesday discussed defense cooperation with the Saudi military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Fayyad bin Hamed Al-Ruwaili.
During the meeting with Al-Ruwaili, Gen Bajwa “emphasized the need to further enhance military-to-military cooperation between the two-armed forces and said that Pakistan-KSA cooperation will have positive impact on peace and security in the region.”


Vaccination against COVID-19 a must for all workers in Saudi Arabia: State TV

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RIYADH: Every worker in the Kingdom will be required to get inoculated against COVID-19 to be able to attend their workplaces, state TV Al Ehbariya said on Friday, quoting the Saudi Ministry of Human Resources and Development.

In a series of tweets, Al Ekhbariya said the ministry was also calling on all sectors to ensure that their employees are vaccinated.

The mechanism of the forthcoming policy and its date of application will be announced soon, the TV station said.

 


 

 


Pakistan keen on greater economic interaction with Saudi Arabia: Pakistan president

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Updated 07 May 2021

Pakistan keen on greater economic interaction with Saudi Arabia: Pakistan president

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  • Strong relationship gains its strength from common religious and cultural values

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have always enjoyed cordial relations.
This strong relationship has been nurtured by successive generations of leadership on both sides and gains its strength from common religious and cultural values and a shared desire for international peace and global development.
Saudi Arabia is held in great reverence by the people of Pakistan and there exists a deep affiliation with the Kingdom, as it is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
There also exists a complete synergy for shared development between the two countries. Pakistani engineers, construction experts and labor have played a leading role in building the infrastructure of modern Saudi Arabia.
Similarly, Pakistani doctors, bankers, entrepreneurs, academics and financial experts have played a premier role in developing the institutional infrastructure of Saudi Arabia.
The visit of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Pakistan in early 2019 ushered in a new area of economic cooperation.
We wish to have greater economic interaction with Saudi Arabia and also look for enhanced trade between the two countries. I am sure the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan to Saudi Arabia will open further avenues of mutual cooperation and broaden understanding on issues of mutual interest.
Pakistan looks forward to the further strengthening of strategic cooperation, trade and investment.
It also looks for cooperation against the COVID-19 pandemic, which has become a major challenge for the world including Muslim countries.
Long live the Pakistan-Saudi friendship!

• Dr. Arif Alvi is the president of Pakistan.