India sent half a million free doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Sri Lanka on Thursday, officials said, part of diplomatic efforts by Delhi to deepen ties with its neighbours.

The world’s biggest maker of vaccines, India is producing the shot developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. It is made under license at the Serum Institute of India, a private firm, in the western city of Pune.

Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received the vaccine, branded as COVISHIELD, from the Indian ambassador Gopal Baglay at a ceremony at Colombo airport, Gotabaya’s office said in a statement.

The island nation of 22 million people will begin inoculations of frontline health workers on Friday from the western province, the presidential office said.

“The stock was donated to Sri Lanka following a request made by the President to Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi,” it said in a statement.

FILE PHOTO: Vials and medical syringe are seen in front of AstraZeneca logo in this illustration. Image: Reuters

China, which has invested millions of dollars in ports and highways in Sri Lanka as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, has also promised to deliver 300,000 vials of vaccine, Lalith Weeratunga, principal advisor to the president, said.

India, which is battling the world’s second highest coronavirus case load, has given away free vaccines to Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Mauritius, and will also give some to Afghanistan once local approvals are secured.

India’s foreign ministry told reporters on Thursday the vaccine has also been exported to Brazil and Morocco on commercial terms, and is also likely to be sent to Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Canada and Mongolia.

Image: Shutterstock

“We will continue to supply vaccines to partner countries over the coming weeks and months in a phased manner. Decisions on these supplies will, of course, be calibrated against the requirements of the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine at home,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said.

“This humanitarian gesture amid the pandemic showcases India’s commitment to its neighbourhood first policy,” a government source said.

REUTERS | NEW DELHI

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