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Coronavirus

Harris calls India 'critically important' to US, vowing more aid

Vice president speaks about family as daily COVID-19 cases reach new high

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a virtual meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex on May 7.    © AP

NEW YORK -- Vice President Kamala Harris vowed Friday that the U.S. would support India, the birthplace of her mother where she still has family, throughout the pandemic by suspending patents on COVID-19 vaccines and other measures as the South Asian nation saw daily infections shatter another record.

"As many of you know, generations of my family come from India. My mother was born and raised in India, and I have family members who live in India today," Harris said at an online event about COVID-19 relief efforts in India hosted by the U.S. State Department. "The welfare of India is critically important to the United States. The surge of COVID-19 infections and deaths in India is nothing short of heartbreaking."

"To those of you who have lost loved ones, I send my deepest condolences," she added.

India has suffered a surge of cases since April, which had the country scrambling to tackle a shortage of hospital beds, oxygen and ventilators. The country has totaled over 21 million coronavirus cases and over 234,000 deaths, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

On Friday, India reported 414,188 new cases, the latest in a stretch of new daily records, and 3,915 deaths, according to its Health Ministry.

Vice President Kamala Harris' maternal uncle, G. Balachandran, talks to media outside his house in New Delhi last year.   © AP

Harris has reached out to her family in India, calling her uncle G. Balachandran to wish him a happy 80th birthday in March, Balachandran told the AP in an interview on Thursday.

The Biden administration has been criticized for not releasing enough COVID-19 vaccine supplies to India. The vice president called for continued support for India and outlined aid that has already been given, including oxygen and N95 masks "with more to come."

"We have announced our full support for suspending patents on COVID-19 vaccines to help India and other nations vaccinate their people more quickly," said Harris. "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."

"We do this as friends of India as members of the Asian Quad and as part of a global community," Harris continued. "I believe that if we continue to work together across nations and sectors, we will all get through this together."

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