New Delhi: Taking forward its Neighbourhood First policy a step further, India on Wednesday dispatched two consignments of Covid-19 vaccine containing 1.5 lakh and 1 lakh doses to Bhutan and Maldives, respectively.

“First consignment takes off for Bhutan! India begins supply of Covid vaccines to its neighbouring and key partner countries,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said in a tweet on Wednesday. 

Manufactured by the Serum Institute of India (SII), the vaccine will reach Bhutan and Male today itself, as a gift from India.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that India is honoured to be a long-trusted partner in meeting the healthcare needs of the global community.

“India is deeply honoured to be a long-trusted partner in meeting the healthcare needs of the global community. Supplies of Covid vaccines to several countries will commence tomorrow, and more will follow in the days ahead,” Modi said in a tweet on Tuesday. 

With this, Bhutan and Maldives became the first recipients of the India-made Covishield vaccine. 

Vaccine Supply to Maldives

India’s vaccine diplomacy also known as “Vaccine Maitri” is yet another testament to its Neighbourhood First policy, in which Maldives occupies a special and central place. During his visit to Maldives in June 2019, Modi had rightly said “Neighbourhood First is our priority; and in the Neighbourhood Maldives is priority”.

During his visit to Maldives in November last year, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla had committed to deliver vaccines whenever these are ready as India and Maldives are close partners and friends. 

Since Maldives has a population of about 500,000, the donation will cover vaccination requirements of a significant percentage of the population. 

In addition, the Maldivian government also proposed to buy three lakh doses of vaccines from SII at commercial rates, an official said.

Since the outbreak of global pandemic, India has worked very closely with Maldives in dealing with the situation. 

Among all neighbours, Maldives was the first and one of the largest beneficiaries of India’s Covid related assistance that includes assistance in evacuation of Maldavians from Wuhan in China, 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 Maldivian authorities and personnel in tackling 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 aircraft airlifted 6.2 tonnes of essential medical supplies from India to Maldives. 

Also, as part of Mission SAGAR, Male was the first port of call for Indian Navy Ship Kesari which delivered about 600 tons of food items to Maldives in May 2020 thus ensuring food security. 

Then, Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid had publicly announced that India has been the first and the best responder to Maldives during this crisis. 

For its post Covid economy recovery, India has also provided assistance in following ways: 

Creation of air travel bubble:

Aiming to help the tourism industry in Maldives, which is the main revenue earner for the government, it was decided to create an air travel bubble with the Maldives in August 2020. 

Maldives was the first country in South Asia with which an air travel bubble was established.

The air bubble has been very successful and at present there are 40 flights to Maldives from 6 different cities of India. Creation of the air bubble has helped in reviving Maldives tourism industry thereby boosting its economy.

“Following creation of the air bubble with Maldives, with more than 60,000 tourist arrivals, India now occupies the number one spot as a tourist source in Maldives. This position was occupied by China before the Covid pandemic,” an official said.

Financial assistance of USD 250 million:

With tourism and fish exports coming to a grinding halt due to the Covid pandemic, the Maldivian economy was under immense strain.

In September 2020, India extended an urgent financial assistance of USD 250 million to Maldives through investment by State Bank of India in Maldives government’s GoM bonds.

Ferry Service between India and Maldives:

Being an import dependent economy, Maldives bore the worst brunt of supply-chain disruptions during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In August 2020, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar announced to commence the service and the maiden journey of the cargo ferry service was flagged off by Minister of Shipping of India and Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation of Maldives in September 2020. 

On Thursday, Bangladesh and Nepal will get their first consignment, while Myanmar and Seychelles will receive the vaccines on Friday.