India's COVID-19 deaths have now surpassed 250,000Markus Spiske / Unsplash

Since the pandemic began, the metaphor "we’re all in the same boat" has echoed around the world, often touted by millionaire politicians who experience very different realities than their average constituent. This sentiment is undermined in the United Kingdom by the experience of already marginalised communities: disabled people, BAME people, and those in low-income jobs have all been disproportionately represented in fatalities. If we are in the same boat, it is the Titanic. The first and third-class passengers might be in the same boat, but COVID-19 fills up some cabins faster than others – and the wealthiest have the most access to lifeboats.

Even the Conservative Party hasn’t reached as far as to apply the "same boat" rhetoric to developing countries struggling against controlling COVID-19 outbreaks. They’ve joined the Covax scheme, and recently sent 1000 ventilators to India. But the latter needs much more help from foreign powers if it’s to keep from drowning. At the time of publication, India had reached 22,700,000 cases and 258,000 deaths.

Britain occupied and oppressed the Indian subcontinent for well over a hundred years. Both before and after the 1947 partition, many Indians settled in the United Kingdom, and as a result, many Brits have familial links with the country. Even without an imperial debt to repay, there would be a moral responsibility to act. In India, people are begging for hospital places on social media, and oxygen and Remdesivir are being traded on the black market for exorbitant prices. Meanwhile, in the UK, there has been a successful vaccine roll-out, and politicians are hopeful for a relatively normal summer – next week will see a return to indoor dining and hugging.

“The hesitance shown by the government reflects a historic aversion to foreign aid”

The government doesn’t lack the ability to send more aid to India – the UK has a vaccine surplus and is relatively well-off. Still, political will for further action seems absent. The hesitance shown by the government reflects a historic aversion to foreign aid, characteristic of the Conservative Party, whose nationalism drives a desire to protect ‘their own’ first – even if the cost is thousands of deaths outside of their borders. However, sending aid to India in the form of the 5 million vaccinations already being made there will benefit "their own" citizens in the long run: both in terms of public health and international politics.

With regards to public health, as long as COVID-19 outbreaks exist in large numbers elsewhere in the world, there is no guarantee that the UK won’t face another wave. After underlining the extent of the UK vaccine’s surplus, NERVTAG member Professor Peter Openshaw told the BBC’s Andrew Marr last week that “we’re not safe until everyone is safe – global equitable distribution is absolutely vital.” The threat posed by new variants is essential to understanding this statement. A new "double mutant" variant has already been found in many Indian states with high case numbers, and there have been cases across England, including in care homes. If this, or another new variant was to prove to be more transmissible or resistant to vaccines, it could jeopardise the government’s entire recovery roadmap.


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This has already happened once on the continent, where the highly transmissible British variant remains a key factor in a third wave. France had only partially relaxed its second lockdown when an increase in numbers of the British variant led to a spike in cases in March, consequently, Macron has not been able to open restaurants or lift curfew for six months. Travel restrictions are hard to enforce, and damaging to trade, but reducing the number of cases in India by sending aid would restrict the ability for existing or new variants to take root in the UK.

The potential benefit when it comes to international politics is also significant. Vaccine nationalism on the part of wealthy nations has left much of South America, Africa, and Asia with insufficient numbers of doses, leaving the door open for Russia and China to donate vaccines in pursuit of favours, or simply increased popularity. The aforementioned countries have already shipped millions of doses to countries in need and are beginning to reap the rewards: a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit highlights how Russia was quick to follow up one vaccine delivery to Bolivia with talks about access to the country’s lucrative mines. It also notes the instance of Cambodia and Laos receiving vaccines from China shortly after backing the CCP’s position on the South China Sea.

“The UK can step back and let authoritarian states with questionable human rights records exert influence on India, or it can intervene by sending aid”

The UK can step back and let authoritarian states with questionable human rights records exert influence on India, or it can intervene by sending aid. Considering the current volatility of the world’s largest democracy, the latter is vastly preferable. This is before taking into account potential economic benefits for the UK, who are already on course to agree to a free trade deal with Modi. It is cynical, but pertinent to consider the UK’s own post-Brexit isolation as motivation to appear generous on the world stage.

The British government responds to criticism by highlighting that it has already sent medical supplies to India. So long as Modi doesn’t explicitly request more, it seems uninterested in appeals from Indian doctors and charities. But by taking a proactive approach to vaccine distribution, Britain would not only "protect its own" from another wave of virus, but conserve its fast-fading global influence.