First foreign aids arrive at Covid-stricken India

New Delhi, India: The first emergency medical supplies arrived in Covid-stricken India on Tuesday as part of a global effort to halt a devastating wave in the next pandemic hotspot, with the US also promising to export millions of AstraZeneca vaccines.

In comparison to some affluent Western nations that are beginning to relax controls, India's infection and death rates are increasing rapidly, overwhelming hospitals.

The virus has now killed over 3.1 million people worldwide, with India accounting for the most recent increase in global case numbers, with more than 2,800 deaths reported on Monday.

Crates of ventilators and oxygen concentrators from the United Kingdom were unloaded at a Delhi airport early Tuesday, the first emergency medical supplies to arrive in India from the world.

Ground photographs from the New Delhi airport show a Lufthansa Airlines flight unloading 100 ventilators & 95 oxygen concentrators and vital medicines from the United Kingdom. 

"International cooperation at work," foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi tweeted alongside pictures of the containers.

AFP photographs from elsewhere in the capital showed the corpses of Covid victims burning on funeral pyres set up in rows, the ground between them scorched by embers and covered with ash.

"So many people are dying because they are unable to get the most basic services," Vinod Kumar told AFP outside a Delhi hospital as he tried to buy medication for a sick family member.

"This government has failed us so much."

We will be there for them

In recent days, the United States, France, Germany, Canada, and the World Health Organization have all agreed to expedite supplies to India.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden declared that the US will send up to 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine abroad.

The recipient countries, according to White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki, have yet to be determined, and the administration is still developing its delivery strategy.

However, India appeared to be a leading contender after Biden spoke with his counterpart Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose Hindu-nationalist government has come under fire in recent weeks for enabling mass gatherings such as religious festivals and political rallies.

"India was there for us, and we will be there for them," Biden tweeted after the call with Modi, referring to India's assistance to the United States during the worst of the Covid crisis.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization, characterized the situation in India as "beyond heartbreaking" on Monday.

"WHO is doing everything we can to provide vital equipment and materials," Tedros said.

France also said that it would send eight oxygen production units, as well as oxygen containers and respirators, to India.

Many nations, however, have tried to close borders to Indian travelers, fearful of a variant that appears to be one of the drivers of the surge.

Australia became the latest country on Tuesday to discontinue all passenger air travel with India.

Due to "clearly present" risks of travel from India, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the suspension would remain in place until at least May 15, leaving thousands of Australians stranded.

Among the Australians in India is a slew of high-profile cricketers competing in the lucrative Indian Premier League.

Scotland returns to the pub 

In Europe, nations that have undergone months of restrictions are resuming normalcy as the effects of vaccine programs begin to take effect.

Bars, restaurants, cinemas, and concert halls reopened on Monday in Italy, the first European country to be struck by the pandemic in early 2020 and still one of the worst affected.

After months of stop-start restrictions placed to handle the second and third waves of Covid-19, Italy hopes that this new easing will signal the start of a more usual summer.

"I've cleared my schedule," enthused 71-year-old Ottavio Rosati, a movie director in Rome. "I'm booked up with museums, restaurants, and bars... I'm not going to sit still!"Scottish pubs, as well as non-essential facilities including gyms, swimming pools, and nail bars, were able to reopen for the first time this year.

"It tastes incredible," Gary McWilliams, 20, told AFP on Monday as he sipped a beer.

"There is such a big difference between a pint that's been poured and a can in your house.

"But I think for most people, just like me, it's less about the actual beer and more about meeting up with a friend. It can't be overstated that it's a big part of Scottish culture."

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