These doses of vaccine are given to Sri Lanka by India as a gift under its “Vaccine Maitri” initiative, a move under which New Delhi has provided vaccines to seven other countries in the South Asian region.
Such humanitarian gesture amid the pandemic showcases India’s commitment to its “Neighbourhood First” policy and SAGAR doctrine in which Sri Lanka has a prominent position.
The delivery of the Covid-19 vaccines to Sri Lanka is a fulfillment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment made to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa during the virtual bilateral summit held in September 2020 for all possible support to Sri Lanka for minimizing the health and economic impact of the pandemic.
Sri Lanka has finalized the priority list of vulnerable groups including healthcare workers and armed personnel, who will be first to receive the vaccine. Sri Lanka approved emergency use of the vaccine on January 23, 2021.
In line with Prime Minister Modi’s statement that India sees international cooperation in the area of fight against the Covid 19 pandemic as its duty, New Delhi has played the role of the first responder in the region.
It has extended a US $ 400-million currency swap facility to Sri Lanka to ensure financial stability of the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It has also gifted approximately 26 tons of essential life saving medicines and equipment to the island nation. India was the first to send such a consignment on-board two special Air India aircrafts.
India also facilitated the repatriation of several hundred Sri Lankan citizens from various Indian cities. Cooperation in maritime security and HADR is a hallmark of the close partnership between India and Sri Lanka.
On September 3, 2020 Mt New Diamond, a crude carrier carrying 2.4 lakh tons of crude oil caught fire, off the east coast of Sri Lanka.
Indian Coast Guard responded immediately and after concerted efforts by 7 Indian Coast Guard ships, 1 Indian Navy ship and 3 Dorniers, the fire was brought under control by September 9, 2020.
A major environmental disaster was averted due to the quick and timely action by India. The Sri Lankan President himself tweeted and expressed his gratitude to the Indian Defense Forces for their efforts in controlling the fires in MT New Diamond and appreciated their contribution in conserving Marine biodiversity by preventing a disastrous situation out in the ocean.
Amid this, what has been significant between India and Sri Lanka has been continued high-level exchanges despite Covid related restrictions.
A virtual bilateral summit was held between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Sri Lankan counterpart Mahinda Rajapaksa on September 26, 2020.
It was Prime Minister Modi’s first such virtual engagement with a neighbouring country and also Rajapaksa’s first diplomatic engagement with a leader of a foreign country after he was sworn in as the Prime Minister on August 9, 2020.
The virtual summit was preceded by the state visits of Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to India in November 2019 and February 2020 respectively.
Since then also, leaders have kept in close touch and spoken to each other on telephone on several occasions including in the context of cooperation to tackle the health and economic impact of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.
At the invitation of Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence Secretary, Maj Gen (Retd) Kamal Gunaratne, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval visited Colombo to participate in the 4th NSA Level Meeting on Trilateral Maritime Security Cooperation on November 27-28, 2020.
The meeting provided an opportunity for discussion on issues pertaining to cooperation in maritime security in the Indian Ocean region.
As his first foreign visit in 2021, and also the first by a foreign dignitary to Sri Lanka in the New Year, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visited Sri Lanka from 5-7 January 2021 upon the invitation of his Sri Lankan counterpart Dinesh Gunawardena.
During the visit, the Sri Lankan side requested India for urgent delivery of Covid vaccines. The supply of 5 lakh doses is a fulfilment of that request.