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Britain has dropped demands for India to release five million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine destined for the UK.

Whitehall sources said efforts to lift the export ban imposed in March by the Indian government had been ‘put on the backburner’.

It comes amid concern about the dire state of the pandemic in the country, where Covid cases have soared past 20million.

Cases of Coronavirus in India has soared to more than 20 million in recent weeks as the crisis continues

Cases of Coronavirus in India has soared to more than 20 million in recent weeks as the crisis continues

Cases of Coronavirus in India has soared to more than 20 million in recent weeks as the crisis continues

Boris Johnson yesterday held wide-ranging talks via video link with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi as part of plans to deliver a ‘quantum leap’ in relations between the two countries in the next decade.

Downing Street said the two leaders talked about the need to boost ‘pandemic resilience’. 

In a statement released afterwards, Mr Johnson highlighted Britain’s assistance with the crisis in India, which includes the provision of oxygen equipment and ventilators. 

He said: ‘In the last week the British people have stepped up in their thousands to support our Indian friends during this terrible time in a demonstration of the deep connection between the UK and India. This connection will only grow over the next decade as we do more together to tackle the world’s biggest problems and make life better for our people.’

Mass cremations have been held in India for the victims of Covid-19 as the country struggles under huge numbers of the virus

Mass cremations have been held in India for the victims of Covid-19 as the country struggles under huge numbers of the virus

Mass cremations have been held in India for the victims of Covid-19 as the country struggles under huge numbers of the virus

In March, the Prime Minister despatched his senior aide Lord Lister to try to secure the release of five million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India.

At the time, the institute – the world’s largest vaccine producer – indicated that the export had been blocked by the Indian government.

The decision dashed hopes that the UK Government could fast-track the vaccination of all adults here ahead of the July target.

The issue was not directly raised during yesterday’s talks between the two leaders, although there was discussion of the need to ‘firm up international supply chains to ensure critical medicines, vaccines and other medical products reach those who need them most’.

But a Whitehall source said the UK’s request for the release of the doses had been shelved in the face of a crisis that has seen Indian hospitals overwhelmed in recent weeks.

A family member carries a patient breathing with the help of oxygen under a tent installed along the roadside

A family member carries a patient breathing with the help of oxygen under a tent installed along the roadside

A family member carries a patient breathing with the help of oxygen under a tent installed along the roadside

‘I think it’s fair to say it has been put on the backburner,’ the source said. ‘It is not an immediate prospect.’ While the UK has given at least one vaccine dose to more than half the population, the equivalent figure in India is less than 10 per cent.

Yesterday’s talks followed the cancellation of the PM’s planned visit to India last month, which was ditched at the last minute because of the crisis. Mr Johnson sees India as a key post-Brexit ally, both economically and strategically.

The two leaders yesterday agreed a ‘2030 roadmap’ covering co-operation across health, climate change, education, science and technology, and defence. It also included a commitment to an ‘enhanced trade partnership’ paving the way for a full free trade agreement aimed at doubling bilateral trade over the next decade.

People wearing protective face masks wait to receive a dose of COVISHIELD, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India

People wearing protective face masks wait to receive a dose of COVISHIELD, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India

People wearing protective face masks wait to receive a dose of COVISHIELD, a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India

Nidhi Shah, 32, receives her first dose of COVISHIELD at a vaccination centre in Mumbai

Nidhi Shah, 32, receives her first dose of COVISHIELD at a vaccination centre in Mumbai

Nidhi Shah, 32, receives her first dose of COVISHIELD at a vaccination centre in Mumbai

Mr Johnson said: ‘The UK and India share many fundamental values. The UK is one of the oldest democracies and India is the world’s largest. We are both committed members of the Commonwealth. And there is a living bridge uniting the people of our countries.’

A free trade agreement with New Delhi is seen as a huge prize for the UK Government following Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

Ahead of the talks, Mr Johnson announced a £1billion trade deal with India which he said would create more than 6,000 jobs.

A strategic ‘tilt’ towards the Indo-Pacific region was one of the key objectives set out in the Government’s recent Integrated Review of foreign and defence policy.

Source: Daily Mail UK

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