India, Israel looking at joint development of COVID-19 vaccine; use of Artificial Intelligence to diagnose virus

New Delhi, Delhi, IndiaWritten By: Sidhant SibalUpdated: Apr 27, 2020, 05:09 PM IST
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Four Indians have been tested COVID-19 positive in Israel with one of them recovering and has been discharged

India and Israel are jointly exploring the use of artificial intelligence to diagnose COVID-19 spread even as both are looking for cooperation for the development of the vaccines. 

Speaking to our diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal from Tel Aviv, India's envoy to Israel Sanjeev Singla said, "India has supplied Israel with hydroxychloroquine and other medical supplies" and the mission has been reaching out to stranded students. Four Indians have been tested COVID-19 positive in Israel with one of them recovering and has been discharged. 

WION: What is the role of the Indian mission in Israel in taking care of Indian citizens? How many Indians have been impacted by COVID-19?

Sanjeev Singla: The embassy has been in close touch with nearly 15,000 Indian community in Israel, comprising of caregivers, high-tech workers, students and others. In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak in Israel, an emergency point of contact was designated by the embassy for any corona-related query from the Indian community. 

The embassy also proactively reached out to our Indian students for quick sharing of information and responding to their queries. And we continue to update relevant information, such as the Israeli and Indian government advisories, on a regular basis on our website and our social media handles. 

As the number of cases in Israel increased, we took the initiative to distribute protective masks, gloves and hand sanitizers to Indian students and caregivers spread all over Israel. 

We also counselled many anxious community members and allayed their fears by providing them proper information. Thankfully, only four Indians have had confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far, of whom one has completely recovered and been discharged. We are in regular touch with the patients as well as with the relevant Israeli authorities regarding their well being and care.  

WION: How are India and Israel collaborating in the fight against COVID-19 pandemic? Anything on combined efforts to develop a vaccine?

Sanjeev Singla: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke twice on the telephone within a span of one month during this crisis. In their last conversation on April 3, they discussed how the two countries can deepen their technological cooperation. India has supplied Israel with hydroxychloroquine and other medical supplies. 

One big area for collaboration relates to the use of AI in diagnosing the spread of such pandemics, new therapies, as also in new methodologies in the development of vaccines, a process that is generally long, expensive and uncertain. 

Technical experts from both sides are engaging to explore possibilities for joint cooperation in this regard.

WION: What do you think about the Israel model and have we shared any Indian model?

Sanjeev Singla: The essential model in both countries has been the same -strict nationwide lockdown, with provision for the delivery of essential supplies. What is different is obviously the scale, with Israel being less than the size of Bengaluru in terms of population. Another aspect is how Israel almost has a habit of rallying as a society and nation in times of a crisis since it has been under siege, so to say, ever since its independence and it reflects in its quick response. 

It was one of the first countries to impose restrictions on travellers from coronavirus hotspots around the world and even though it has had a substantial case load of over 15,000 cases, it has been able to keep the mortality rate remarkably low. 

Once the pandemic has subsided, it would perhaps be interesting for both countries to share their experiences and practices with regard to tackling the pandemic in high density hotspots. 

Another useful experience sharing could relate to policies regarding easing of lockdowns while maintaining the required medical norms, and the utility of ‘nudge’ policies of behavioural economics and public trust that we in India have been emphasising towards behavioural safeguards that will be crucial once the economies reopen, such as those relating to the need for social distancing and hygiene. 

We, of course, have been sharing through social media and with our interlocutors India’s response to the pandemic. 

WION: How are diplomats working, how tough it has been for them?

Sanjeev Singla: Israel, like India, has been under a strict lockdown. It’s only very recently that some relaxations have been given, now that the pandemic indicators are improving steadily. All of us have been working mostly from home, even though we have been going to office from time to time when necessary. But it’s not the same thing. 

Our job involves reaching out to people across a cross-section of the society and from various streams, meeting them face-to-face. That obviously has been impacted, along with high-level delegation visits from both countries. A whole lot of meetings have had to be cancelled and would now have to be rescheduled once the situation normalises slowly. 

At the same time, we are thankful to the local authorities for having ensured all possible help at various times, especially for our large community here.