China's Ambassador to Bangladesh Li Jiming (L), Bangladesh foreign minister Professor Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen (R) and Health Minister Zahid Maleque take part in a handover ceremony of 500 thousand doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine Photograph:( AFP )
Although Dhaka had signed an agreement with India to buy 30 million doses only seven million arrived, plus another 3.3 million as a gift, before New Delhi called a halt to exports
China on Wednesday gave half a million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Bangladesh, in Beijing's latest move to fill the gap left by India as it reels from the pandemic.
After cases surged in March, India froze exports of coronavirus vaccines to dozens of countries, including those in South Asia where New Delhi has held sway.
Although Dhaka had signed an agreement with India to buy 30 million doses only seven million arrived, plus another 3.3 million as a gift, before New Delhi called a halt to exports.
"A friend in time of need is a friend indeed," Bangladesh's health minister Zahid Maleque said during a ceremony in Dhaka airport when the Sinopharm vaccines were handed over by China's ambassador.
The delivery follows a videoconference last month with Beijing and several South Asian nations, excluding India, during which China offered vaccines and other medical supplies.
Because of shortages, Bangladesh had already rolled back parts of the vaccine drive, allowing only those with a first jab to queue for the second dose.
But health department spokesman Robed Amin told AFP that Dhaka was now planning to get 50 million Chinese shots, with minister Zahid Maleque telling reporters that Dhaka plans to buy the vaccines from China or to produce them in Bangladesh.
Earlier foreign minister A.K. Abdul Momen told AFP Dhaka was also holding talks with Russia to import the Sputnik V vaccine.
He praised a Chinese plan to set up an emergency supply reserve for the region, as proposed by Beijing during the video conference.
Momen said the Sinopharm vaccines "will create a new era of relationship" between Beijing and Dhaka.
"China has become a great friend of Bangladesh over the years. And we look for better days," he added.
Elsewhere, Nepal sent an aircraft to China on Tuesday to pick up the first 400 out of a promised 20,000 oxygen cylinders as well as other medical supplies.
Beijing has also provided 800,000 coronavirus vaccines to Nepal, where cases are surging.
Kathmandu had received a million doses of the AstraZeneca shot from India, plus half of another promised two million, in addition to 350,000 via the Covax initiative.
And Sri Lanka has begun using 600,000 shots from China after deliveries from India stopped, while the Maldives has received 200,000.