India made the right choices in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic and is as realistically well placed as any country could be under the prevailing circumstances, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said on Saturday.
Jaishankar, who is part of the Group of Ministers (GoM) on COVID-19, said that when the pandemic started assuming global proportions, the choice that every country faced was how to respond while playing to their own strengths.
Some countries had better testing capabilities like South Korea, while others like Germany had a strong ICU system, he said while speaking at the India Global Week 2020 via a video link.
"In our (India's) case, recognising our capabilities and our limitations, we opted to rely very substantially on social distancing. So we went for a very early lockdown, we went for a very early travel restriction and the result of that, three months down the road... yes the actual caseload today is large, it is not large in proportion to the population," he said.
What is interesting is that while India is at number three in the world in terms of caseload, in terms of fatalities, it is at number eight, Jaishankar said.
"We have a recovery rate of 61 per cent and the time gained (due to the early measures) has not just slowed the spread, it has allowed preparations," he said, highlighting how India started making personal protection equipment, ramped up its pharmaceutical response and strengthened the hospital system.
"So we still have our challenges ahead, we are very conscious of it. I think the next few weeks and months are going to be tough, but in the given situation, we feel, we made the right choices and are as realistically well placed as anybody could be under the circumstances," the external affairs minister said.
Talking about India's role going forward, Jaishankar said it is the world's largest producer of vaccines and once people discover a vaccine or multiple vaccines, clearly the country will have a role in making that accessible, affordable and available to the rest of the world.
"Even before the vaccine, I should add that in this period actually when there was a surge in demand for coronavirus-related drugs, we have actually responded to that. We have supplied medicines to more than 120 countries, including a lot of small countries who would not normally have had access to them because the demands on those medicines were very high," he said.
With a record single-day increase of 27,114 cases, India's COVID-19 tally increased to 8,20,916 on Saturday, while the death toll climbed to 22,123 with 519 people succumbing to the disease in 24 hours, the health ministry data updated at 8 am showed.
The nationwide lockdown was first imposed from March 25 for 21 days in a bid to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. The lockdown was first extended till May 3 and then again till May 17. It was further extended till May 31.
This was followed by 'Unlock 1' and 'Unlock 2' phases during which a large number of social, economic, religious and sports activities are being allowed to function.
On the politics of a post-COVID world, Jaishankar said that a lot of trends that were seen before the coronavirus pandemic could accelerate.
"What we have seen in the last six months for example -- we have seen a lot of countries behave more nationalistically, people frankly looking out for themselves. I understand it up to a point," he said.
"I do see a world where many, shall I say, arguments will sharpen, I think there will be issues of trust which have been raised. There will be questions on resilient supply chains. It is going to be a more difficult world," Jaishankar said.
Talking about multilateralism, the external affairs minister said it is certainly under stress.
"But along with weakening multilateralism you also have greater multipolarity. You have many more players not just at the top level of world politics but I would say in a sense middle powers," he said.
It is important for countries like India and the UK, who have a shared world view and shared belief, to work closely together at the global level, Jaishankar said.