Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar has written to India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi asking for a gift of Covid-19 vaccines for Trinidad and Tobago.

By letter dated February 23, 2021, the former prime minister told Modi that over the last two weeks the Opposition has been reaching out to the Keith Rowley-led Government to request a donation of vaccines from India.

She stated that Trinidad and Tobago is reeling from the effects of the deadly virus and she believes that with Modi’s direct intervention and vaccine donation, this country may be able to combat these challenges.

Persad-Bissessar noted that this country received a donation of 2,000 vaccines from Barbados’ Prime Minister Mia Mottley.

Mottley wrote to Modi in January requesting a gift of 100,000 vaccines and to purchase 100,000 vaccines, which the Indian government provided.

“Trinidad and Tobago is grateful to have already benefited from Barbados’s donation of 2,000 doses of vaccines that originated in India,” stated Persad-Bissessar in her letter to Modi.

“However, as you may know, our population is about 1.3 million persons. My beloved country is reeling from the challenges of Covid-19.

“Over the last two weeks, we have repeatedly asked the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to reach out to your government for assistance,” stated the letter.

“Honourable Prime Minister, it is my respectful view that it is only with your direct, timely intervention and generosity that we may be able to combat the pandemics challenges at present. In this regard, I respectfully appeal your kind consideration to donate AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines to protect my fellow citizens,” she added.

“Should my humble request find favour with your good self, I am confident the necessary arrangements to accommodate the same can be made. I look forward to hearing from you. Please accept, Honourable Prime Minister, the assurance of my highest consideration,” stated Persad-Bissessar.

Praise for India/

T&T relationship

In the letter, Persad-Bissessar praised the Indian government for its role in leading the world’s vaccination drive.

“I commend the government and people of India for the exemplary role you have played worldwide in treating the effects of Covid-19. I sincerely believe that if the world manages to conquer Covid, it will be because of India’s generous humanity,” she stated.

She emphasised T&T and India’s long-standing relationship.

“Honourable Prime Minister, our countries have had a long, cordial relationship. When I visited India in 2012, I was deeply moved by the warmth and people of India. They treated me ‘Bharat ki Beti’. I remember remarking about our cultural ties, closeness and family traditions,” she stated.

Persad-Bissessar was a guest of the Indian government in 2012 and was also the chief guest at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD).

“Our citizens have long benefited from professional and cultural exchanges and India’s investment in our country’s development, including the recently constructed Mahatma Gandhi Institute in Valsayn, Trinidad,” stated Persad-Bissessar.

The Express contacted both the Prime Minister and Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh for comment.

Deyalsingh said the Prime Minister had already written to Modi about the purchase of vaccines for T&T.

He added that Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne has also already communicated with India’s External Affairs Minister and India’s High Commissioner in Trinidad Arun Kumar Sahu.

On February 22 Sahu told the Express that at that time the T&T Government had not yet made a purchase order and commercial agreement for vaccines from India’s Serum Institute.

Deyalsingh said the ministry has also been in communication with Trinidad and Tobago’s High Commissioner in New Delhi Roger Gopaul.

He said the Government has been utilising all diplomatic channels.

“The is absolutely no need for a third party to contribute matters, a third party cannot negotiate on behalf of the Government,” he said.

“We have to be very careful as the consignee is the Ministry of Health,” he added.

Asked if any request was made specifically for a vaccine gift from the Indian government, Deyalsingh responded, “We have no problem in purchasing vaccines or accepting a gift.”

India’s

vaccine drive

The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker by volume, has agreed to produce 1.1 billion doses for delivery to a number of countries.

India has already started distributing millions of its domestically produced Covid-19 vaccines for free to some of its neighbours and several countries around the world.

The “vaccine maitri” (Hindi for vaccine friendship) initiative was announced by Prime Minister Modi days after India began its nationwide vaccination campaign in January.

A number of Caribbean counties have received vaccine gifts from India, the latest being Jamaica.

On February 28 the Jamaica Gleaner reported that Jamaica is set to receive 50,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines from India some time next week.

In a Facebook video post, Jamaica Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamina Johnson Smith said: “I am so pleased that our friends and partners, the government and people at the Republic of India, have confirmed that their kind gift of 50,000 Cov-19 vaccines will arrive in Jamaica next week.”

The Associates Times reported that to tackle the global pandemic, the Indian government sent off 175,000 Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine doses to five Caribbean countries, including four under the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

These vaccines would most likely reach Antigua and Barbuda tomorrow; further transportation arrangements have been made to deliver the vaccine to respective countries.

It stated as per the External Ministry of India sources, St Lucia will get 25,000 jabs of Covishield vaccine, St Kitts and Nevis 20,000, St Vincent and the Grenadines 40,000, Antigua and Barbuda 40,000, the Republic of Suriname 50,000.

It stated in this accession process of vaccines, the chairman of the OECS Prime Minister of Dominica Roosevelt Skerrit played a key role in the procurement of vaccines from India.

On February 26 the Canadian government stated it had secured two million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine through an agreement with Verity Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc/Serum Institute of India.

The two million doses secured through this agreement are in addition to the 20 million doses already secured through an earlier agreement with AstraZeneca.

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