Maldives has also proposed to purchase 300,000 doses of vaccines from SII at commercial rates

India on Wednesday sent a consignment containing 100,000 doses of Covishield vaccines to Male and with this, Maldives has become the first recipient of India’s gift of the vaccines, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.

India’s vaccine diplomacy is yet another testament to its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, in which Maldives occupies a special and central place. This is reciprocated in full measure by ‘India First’ policy of the Government of Maldives.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Maldives in June 2019 rightly said that ‘Neighbourhood First’ is India’s priority and in ‘Neighbourhood Maldives’ is priority’.

The delivery of these vaccines in Maldives fulfills the commitment made by Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla during his visit to the Maldives in November 2020 when he announced that as a close partner and friend, India would accord priority to Maldives for providing vaccines, whenever these vaccines are ready.

Since Maldives has a population of about 500,000, the donation will cover vaccination requirement of a significant percentage of the population. In addition, Maldives proposes to purchase 300,000 doses of vaccines from SII at commercial rates.

Right from the start of the COVID pandemic, India has worked very closely with the Maldives in dealing with the pandemic.

Among all neighbours, Maldives is the first and one of the largest beneficiaries of India’s Covid-19 related assistance. This includes assistance in evacuation of Maldives nationals from Wuhan, supply of essential medicines and food items and deployment of a 14 member Rapid Response Team consisting of doctors and paramedics in March 2020 to guide and train the Maldivian authorities and personnel in tackling Corona threat.

When international borders were closed due to the pandemic in April 2020, ‘Operation Sanjeevani’ was launched to meet the medicine requirements of Maldives. Under this operation, a special IAF plane airlifted 6.2 tonnes of essential medical supplies from India to Maldives.

Also, as part of Mission SAGAR, Male was the first port of call for Indian naval ship Kesari which delivered about 600 tons of food items to Maldives in May 2020 thus ensuring food security.

Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid has publicly announced that India has been the *first and the best responder* for the Maldives during this crisis.

It is noteworthy that Indian assistance comes without any pre-conditions or expectations.

Besides providing assistance to the Maldives in terms of medicines, food items, medical expertise and vaccines, India has provided the following assistance to the Maldives for its post Covid economic recovery:

In order to support the tourism industry of Maldives, which is the main revenue earner for Male, it was decided to create an air travel bubble with the Maldives in August 2020. Maldives was the first country in South Asia with which an air travel bubble was established.

The air bubble has been very successful and at present there are 40 flights to Maldives from 6 different cities of India. Creation of the air bubble has helped revive Maldives tourism industry thereby, boosting its economy.

Following creation of the air bubble with Maldives, with more than 60,000 tourist arrivals, India now occupies the number one spot as a tourist source in the Maldives. This position was occupied by China before the Covid-19 pandemic.

With tourism and fish exports coming to a grinding halt due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Maldivian economy was under immense strain.

India’s steadfast support to Maldives was conveyed by Prime Minister Modi to President of Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih during their telephonic talks in April 2020.

In September 2020, India extended an urgent financial assistance of US$ 250 million to Maldives through investment by SBI in Government of Maldives bonds.

This was the first assistance package of such a magnitude that was announced by India to any country to deal with COVID-19 pandemic.

Being an import dependent economy, Maldives bore the worst brunt of supply-chain disruptions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was, therefore, decided to launch a direct cargo ferry service between India and Maldives to ensure a reliable and predictable supply chain for Maldives and boost bilateral trade.

An announcement to commence the service was made by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar in August 2020 and the maiden journey of the cargo ferry service was flagged off by the Minister of Shipping of India and Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation of Maldives in September 2020.

In addition to bolstering trade ties between India and Maldives, this cargo ferry service has ensured food security to Maldives and strengthened our people-to-people contact.