The United States has denied a request by India to lift the ban on the export of raw materials essential to produce Covid-19 vaccines as the country suffers through a devastating second coronavirus surge.
A US State Department spokesperson said the Biden administration’s first obligation is to take care of the requirements of the American people.
India’s coronavirus infections rose by 346,786 overnight, the health ministry said on Saturday, setting a new world record for the third consecutive day, as overwhelmed hospitals in the densely-populated country begged for oxygen supplies.
During a press briefing, when asked when the Biden administration would decide on India's request to lift the ban, spokesperson Ned Price said that "the United States first and foremost is engaged in an ambitious and effective and, so far, successful effort to vaccinate the American people”.
“That campaign is well underway, and we’re doing that for a couple of reasons. Number one, we have a special responsibility to the American people. Number two, the American people, this country has been hit harder than any other country around the world – more than 550,000 deaths, tens of millions of infections in this country alone," added Price.
He also said it is also in the interest of the rest of the world to see Americans vaccinated against the virus.
“The point the Secretary (of State Antony Blinken) has made repeatedly is that as long as the virus is spreading anywhere, it is a threat to people everywhere. So as long as the virus is spreading uncontrolled in this country, it can mutate and it can travel beyond our borders. That, in turn, poses a threat well beyond the United States.”
India is in the grip of a rampaging second wave of the pandemic, hitting a rate of one Covid-19 death in just under every four minutes in Delhi as the capital's underfunded health system buckles.
The crisis is also being felt in other parts of the country, with several hospitals issuing public notices that they don't have medical oxygen. Local media reported fresh cases of people dying in the cities of Jaipur and Amritsar for lack of gas.
India surpassed the US record of 297,430 single-day infections anywhere in the world on Thursday, making it the global epicentre of a pandemic that is waning in many other countries. The Indian government had itself declared it had beaten back the coronavirus in February when new cases fell to all-time lows.
The country of around 1.3 billion has now recorded a total of 16.6 million cases, including 189,544 deaths.