Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

Growing tensions between T&T and India over the gifting of COVID-19 vaccines to the CARICOM region ended yesterday, following the announcement it would be donating 40,000 doses of the WHO-approved Astra Zeneca vaccine to this country.

The donation came after official correspondence from Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to the India Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Monday’s meeting between CARICOM and Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Amery Browne and India’s High Commissioner to T&T Arun Kumar Sahu.

Alongside India’s donation was another gift from the People’s Republic of China, which agreed to donate 100,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to T&T.

Following the generous donation, a release from the Office of the Prime Minister yesterday said, “The Government of Trinidad and Tobago has graciously accepted this generous offer of the Sinopharm vaccine as we anxiously await WHO approval.”

The release expressed Rowley’s sincerest appreciation and gratitude to Modi and China President Xi Jinping for their generosity to the people of T&T.

Although no dates on when the vaccines will arrive were provided, the OPM assured, “All relevant arrangements are being made for the shipment of the vaccines to Port-of-Spain.”

Shortly after the announcement by the OPM, Sahu issued a statement saying, “I feel proud that my country, a civilisation of 5,000 years and the biggest democracy in the world, has been able to extend a hand of support to the people and government of Trinidad and Tobago in their fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I express my deepest gratitude to my Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, the External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar and my colleagues in the Ministry of External Affairs for making this possible. There is tremendous goodwill in India for the people of Trinidad and Tobago and the donation of Astra Zeneca vaccines is a clear reiteration of that long-standing historical, cultural, social and friendly relations.”

Relations between Rowley and Sahu had grown tense in the last week, following remarks by the T&T Prime Minister that Sahu had failed to communicate the availability of COVID-19 vaccines from India to this country.

During last Thursday’s segment of Conversations with the Prime Minister in St Joseph, Rowley claimed T&T had not been invited to be part of any free vaccine distribution programme involving the provision of vaccines from India. He claimed the first time he learned of any vaccines from India was through local doctors who were spoken to by Sahu and the second time he heard of the Maitri vaccines, which is India’s global outreach initiative, was through local businessmen hoping to bring the vaccines into T&T.

Rowley was heavily criticised for reportedly failing to act quickly to secure T&T’s share of an offer of 500,000 vaccines from India to CARICOM – an offer which the PM claimed has never been confirmed.

In February, Barbados received 100,000 vaccines from India and out of that, it donated 2,000 doses to T&T; 1,500 to Guyana; 1,000 to St Lucia and 500 to Grenada.

India also donated 70,000 vaccines to Dominica and 40,000 vaccines to Antigua and Barbuda. Dominica shared 2,000 vaccines with St Lucia; 5,000 with Antigua and Barbuda; 5,000 to St Vincent and the Grenadines; 2,000 to St Kitts and Nevis and 500 to Grenada.

Also commenting on the vaccine donation, China’s Ambassador to T&T Fang Qui said Chinese President Xi Jinping and Rowley had communicated via phone on March 16, when the two exchanged views and reached a consensus on vaccine cooperation.

Qui said, “As a deliverable of this top-level interaction, the Chinese government has worked in real earnest to decide on this donation in a very short period of time, to support T&T for its efforts to safeguard the health of its people. China will also facilitate with T&T’s procurement of Chinese vaccines. This is a new testimony to China and T&T standing in solidarity and brotherhood to fight against this pandemic.”

Qui added, “This donation is a concrete action of implementing President Xi’s promise to the world that China’s vaccines will be a global public good, especially for developing countries, to make China’s contribution to vaccines equity, accessibility and affordability worldwide.

“China is walking its talk on achieving the vision of building a community with a shared future for mankind and a global community of health for all.”

Qui said China has also provided anti-pandemic assistance to over 150 countries and nine international organisations.

“We did our utmost to stand with the rest of the world in a joint fight, carrying out the largest emergency humanitarian operations since the founding of the People’s Republic of China and making our contribution to the global pandemic response,” Qui said.

Describing vaccines as a powerful weapon to save lives, Qui acknowledged that “certain countries are obsessed with politicising the virus, stigmatising other nations and manipulating vaccines distributions, while turning back on their people suffering, even dying from the pandemic. Some countries are hoarding large quantities of vaccines far over their actual needs but refusing to provide assistance to other countries, even their own allies.”

“We concur with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley that all countries should join forces to reject “vaccine nationalism,” “vaccine divide” or any attempt to politicise vaccine cooperation. We hope that all capable countries will do what they can to provide vaccines to countries in need, especially developing countries so that people all over the world will have access to affordable vaccines, vaccines that truly benefit the people. China stays keenly committed to this cause,” Qui said.

Kamla disturbed by COVAX news

Disturbed by the latest news that the COVAX facility will not be able to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to T&T by the end of March as promised by the Government, Opposition Leader Kamla Persad Bissessar says the donations from India and China is great news.

In a release yesterday, Persad-Bissessar said, “This Rowley administration was last to enter talks with vaccine manufacturers and they were last to write to the government of India. Now our nation is last in the regional ranking of vaccinations.”

She said while other CARICOM countries continue their vaccination roll-outs, T&T had been “left in limbo as to when we will be able to begin receiving vaccines for our citizens.”

“This is an entirely unforgivable situation that places citizens in further peril,” Persad-Bissessar said

She also lashed out at Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh after he refuted claims by businesses that they were approached by him to help purchase vaccines.

“The Minister is now saying the Government is partnering with two local business groups to purchase vaccines. He still cannot say when or indeed if this will bear fruit,” she said.

Former minister Dr Bhoe Tewarie meanwhile celebrated the announcement.

“I am happy for the confirmation by the Prime Minister that donations of vaccines have been received from India. I am very happy that that will now put an end to the unnecessary conflict over donations of Indian vaccines,” Tewarie said.

He said if the 140,000 doses were two-dose vaccines, this would mean 70,000 people would be vaccinated.

“If that is the case, we would be 70,000 people better than we were yesterday, so I look forward to a successful vaccination drive and a well-managed system of priority groups to be vaccinated.”