Covid surge, deaths in India “nothing short of heartbreaking”, says Vice President Kamala Harris

The welfare of India is critically important to the United States, the vice president tells Indian-Americans

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, May 9, 2021 – Vice President Kamala Harris has said the surge in coronavirus cases and fatalities in India “is nothing short of heartbreaking” and the US is determined to help its friend in its hour of need.

In a prerecorded message to a diaspora event Friday hosted by the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA), Harris told an online audience, “Generations of my family come from India. My mother (Shyamala Gopalan) was born and raised in India. And I have family members who live in India today. The welfare of India is critically important to the United States”, she affirmed.

US lawmakers urge Biden to increase Covid-19 assistance to India.

India set another unenviable world record reporting over 400,000 daily cases for the third time in a week. The total number of cases are 21.49 million and fatalities have crossed the 234,000 mark. In the last week alone, the country’s health ministry has reported more than 2.7 million cases and over 25,700 deaths which equates to some 153 people dying every hour.

“The surge of Covid-19 infections and deaths in India is nothing short of heartbreaking”, Harris told members of the Indian-American community at the virtual event. “To those of you who have lost loved ones, I send my deepest condolences”.

The exponential surge in coronavirus infections has overwhelmed India’s fragile healthcare system. Hospitals across the country are experiencing shortages of medical oxygen, beds, protective gear and essential drugs as the country grapples with a deadly second wave that shows no signs of ebbing.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, when our hospital beds were stretched, India sent assistance. And today, we are determined to help India in its hour of need”, Harris asserted.

“We do this as friends of India, as members of the Asian Quad, and as part of the global community. I believe that if we continue to work together – across nations and sectors – we will all get through this”, she said.

Pressure mounts on Biden administration to help India during catastrophic surge in coronavirus cases

After a sluggish response to the crisis in India and under mounting pressure, the US is now ramping up delivery of Covid aid to the virus-ravaged country. Harris pointed out that President Joe Biden spoke to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 26 and four days later, US military members and civilians were delivering relief on the ground.

Noting that the US has delivered refillable oxygen cylinders, oxygen concentrators, N95 masks, doses of Remdesivir to treat Covid patients, the vice president pledged that more help is on the way.

“We have announced our full support for suspending patents on Covid-19 vaccines – to help India and other nations vaccinate their people more quickly”, she said, reminding the viewers that “India and the United States have the greatest number of Covid-19 cases in the world”.

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At the outset, Harris recognized diaspora groups such as Indiaspora and the American India Foundation which, she said, “have built bridges between the United States and India. And this past year, you have provided vital contributions to Covid-19 relief efforts”, she noted.

The online event titled ‘Bolstering US Covid Relief Efforts in India: Perspectives from the Diaspora’ was as meaningful as it was timely given the urgency of conditions in India.

Ervin Massinga, senior advisor in the SCA Bureau, assured the largely Indian-American virtual audience “that the entire US government – from President Biden to our team at the Embassy and consulates on the ground – is doing everything we can to help India. In the last week, six air shipments of vital assistance have landed in India”, he noted.

“In my 26 years with the Department of State, I have never seen such an outpouring of personal and institutional generosity as we have experienced from Americans of all backgrounds in the last month”, Massinga said. “The level of focus and dedication from private sector, civil society and community-based organizations, including contributions from Indian-Americans, has contributed to ensuring much-needed supplies and resources get to those most in need”.

Pfizer to donate over $70 million worth of Covid-19 drugs to India

The Biden-Harris administration announced April 28 that the US will deliver supplies worth more than $100 million in the coming days to provide urgent relief to its partners in India.

“We are bringing to bear the strength, innovation and unique capabilities of the American people to assist those suffering in India. And we recognize that the pandemic will not be over for anyone until it is over for everyone”, Massinga said.

Anjali Kaur, deputy assistant administrator for Asia at USAID (US Agency for International Development), told the online audience, “As a member of the diaspora myself and having worked on public health in India for a number of years, I have been so touched by the magnitude of the outpouring of support for India”.

She spoke of the “overwhelming response” that the agency has received from both US and Indian companies, as well as the Indian diaspora, who have supported the crisis in India in every way possible. At the state level, she mentioned California which has partnered with USAID to facilitate a donation of life-saving oxygen supplies.

Kaur disclosed that the agency’s relief workers are meeting daily with Indian government officials “to ensure that our assistance meets urgent needs and is targeted to where it is needed most, as quickly as possible”.

“None of this work would be possible without our amazing USAID team based in India who are working tirelessly under incredibly difficult circumstances. While they themselves are living in the midst of this surge and facing all it perils head-on, they still are managing to orchestrate a complex US response effort”, she said.

The online event also featured a panel discussion by Indian-American activists on diaspora-led efforts to address the current crisis in India and how Americans can contribute to the efforts. The eminent panelists who participated in the webinar were: Virginia state senator Dr. Ghazala Hashmi; Indiaspora founder MR Rangaswami; Lata Krishnan, founder and co-chair of the American Indian Foundation; and Dr. Gunisha Kaur, an anesthesiologist specializing in human rights research.

Readers who would like to contribute to the relief efforts in India or the rest of South Asia can contact the Department of State South Asia COVID Assistance Coordination group at or visit the web-site of the Center for International Disaster Information at and companies can email

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