The flight will first arrive in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala and then leave for Male.
With this, Maldives (along with Bhutan) has become the first recipient of India’s gift of the Covishield vaccines, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII). Earlier on Wednesday, India sent a consignment of 1.5 lakh doses of COVID-19 vaccine Covishield to Thimphu, Bhutan.
Mohamed Nasheed, Maldives’ Speaker of People’s Majlis (parliament) tweeted, “Today, an Air India plane will land in Male’ with 100,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine – a gift from India. For the Maldives, it’s the beginning of the end of this terrible virus. During the tsunami, ’88 coup, water crisis or corona pandemic, India has been our first responder and dependable friend”.
This vaccine diplomacy of India is yet another testament to its Neighbourhood First policy, in which the Maldives occupies a special and central place. This is reciprocated in full measure by the ‘India First’ policy of the Government of Maldives.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to the Maldives in June 2019 rightly said ‘Neighbourhood First is our priority; in the Neighbourhood Maldives is a priority’.
The delivery of these vaccines in the Maldives today fulfils the commitment made by the Foreign Secretary during his visit to the Maldives in November 2020 when he announced that as a close partner and friend, India would accord priority to the Maldives for providing vaccines, whenever these vaccines were ready.
Since the Maldives has a population of about 500,000, the donation will cover the vaccination requirement of a significant percentage of the population. In addition, Maldives proposes to purchase 300,000 doses of vaccines from SII at commercial rates.
Right from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, India has worked very closely with the Maldives in dealing with the pandemic. Among all neighbours, Maldives was the first and one of the largest beneficiaries of COVID-19 related assistance.
This includes assistance in the evacuation of Maldives nationals from Wuhan, the supply of essential medicines and food items and deployment of a 14 member Rapid Response Team consisting of doctors and paramedics in March 2020 to guide and train the Maldivian authorities and personnel in tackling the coronavirus threat.
When international borders were closed due to the pandemic in April 2020, Operation Sanjeevani was launched to meet the medical requirements of Maldives.
Under this operation, a special Indian Air Force (IAF) plane airlifted 6.2 tonnes of essential medical supplies from India to the Maldives. Also, as part of Mission Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR), Male was the first port of call for Indian Navy Ship Kesari which delivered about 600 tons of food items to the Maldives in May 2020 thus ensuring food security.
Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid has publicly announced that India has been the first and the best responder for the Maldives during this crisis.
It is noteworthy that Indian assistance comes without any pre-conditions or expectations.
Besides providing assistance in terms of medicines, food items, medical expertise, vaccines etc, India has provided assistance to the Maldives for its post-Covid-19 economic recovery, like air travel bubble in August 2020 to support the tourism industry, financial assistance of $250 million to deal with Covid-19 pandemic, and ferry services between the nations to ensure a reliable and predictable supply chain for the Maldives and boost bilateral trade along with food security to the Maldives as well as strengthening people-to-people contact.
Acting on the Neighbourhood First policy India will supply Covid-19 vaccines on a gratis basis to Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Seychelles from January 20 onwards.