- The Washington Times - Friday, April 24, 2020

The coronavirus crisis is providing an opportunity for the U.S. and Indian tech communities to deepen ties and expand joint research efforts, as both countries seek the right policy mix to deal with the global pandemic, Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Taranjit Singh Sandhu said this week.

Mr. Sandhu, who took up his assignment in Washington in early February just as the COVID-19 outbreak was spilling out of China and washing over the entire world, admitted it was “not easy” for the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to impose a strict 21-day national shutdown last month on Indian society and commerce to help contain the virus.

But he said in a videoconference Tuesday organized by the Asia Society’s Policy Institute that the crisis also provides an avenue to deepen scientific ties between New Delhi and Washington

“Whether it is Indian companies in the United States or American companies in India, [experts] are coming up with innovative solutions and supporting local communities,” Mr. Sandhu said. “Every effort matters at this stage.”

The envoy noted that the World Health Organization and others have praised the rigor of India’s response and that fears his country of nearly 1.4 billion people was poised to be the next global hot spot have yet to materialize. India is four times more populous than the U.S. but to date has reported just 2% the number of cases and only 1.5% of the number of COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S.

Through Friday, Indian health officials have reported barely more than 23,000 cases across the country, 718 deaths and 4,814 recovered patients. The nationwide lockdown, Mr. Sandhu added, bought India time to purchase large stocks of protective equipment, such as masks and ventilators, for health care workers and first responders.

Since Jan. 30, international passengers were screened for symptoms of the virus upon entering India’s airports. Female nurses have been dispensed to many of India’s small towns and villages, sometimes going door to door to conduct testing. Mr. Sandhu said India has conducted about 30,000 coronavirus tests per day, with the hopes of upping the number of tests to 100,000 per day in coming weeks, although private experts say much more needs to be done.

“We have to rely on our strengths to fight this COVID-19. … Our containment strategy is to identify clusters of infection and through surveillance, contact tracing and isolation,” the ambassador said.

As India nears the end of a nationwide shutdown that began March 25, the U.S.-India Science and Technology Endowment Fund has called for new proposals that will allow experts in the U.S. and India to collaborate on new technologies and medicines to fight the spread of COVID-19.

India is one of the world’s largest producers of hydroxychloroquine, a particular focus of the Trump administration’s search for a possible treatment for the coronavirus. In just a matter of weeks, Indian pharmaceutical companies have exported supplies of the drug to over 50 countries, including the United States, Mr. Sandhu said.

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