China criticises Bangladesh’s indecision over Covid vaccine

China has criticised Bangladesh government’s procrastination in taking decision over procuring the Covid vaccine commercially.

China ambassador to Dhaka Li Jiming on Monday said they offered to gift Bangladesh 500,000 doses of Covid vaccine on 3 February but had to wait for around 3 months to get a feedback from Bangladesh. Bangladesh on 30 April informed China that they will take the vaccine.

The Chinese envoy said it’s necessary to take quick action in the face of a grave challenge.

Li Jiming made the remark while speaking a virtual view exchange meeting with diplomatic journalists.

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The ambassador at the same programme said Bangladesh's relations with China will be "substantially damaged" if Bangladesh joins the US-led initiative, Quad.

Li Jiming also confirmed that the Chinese gift of 500,000 doses of Sinopharm Covid vaccine would reach Bangladesh on 12 May.

The government started trying to get the vaccine from China only after uncertainty surfaced about getting the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from India’s Serum Institute. In April, Bangladesh also agreed to join a China-initiated regional platform styled ‘emergency vaccine storage facility for covid for South Asia’ to get coronavirus vaccines in case of emergency needs.

Earlier last year, two Chinese companies—Sinovac and Anhui Zhifei— sought approval for starting clinical trial of Covid vaccine in Bangladesh. The discussion had started at the government level before September last year but the issue was stalled. Later, headway was made over joint clinical trial of vaccine between Sinovac and International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b). The Chinese company later in October approached icddr,b to co-finance the initiative citing financial constraints. The initiative was ditched then.

A 10-member Chinese medical team with expertise in treating Covid-19 patients visited Bangladesh in June last year. After the visit, the Chinese team expressed their frustration over Bangladesh government's handling of the crisis. The experts at a press conference said there is a lack of awareness among the people of Bangladesh over Coronavirus.

They also sent their recommendations to curb the coronavirus infection in Bangladesh. The Chinese experts maintained that Bangladesh is not emphasising on busting the origin of spread of coronavirus for the want of effective surveillance mechanism.

Asked about the Chinese ambassador’s remark, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen on Monday told Prothom Alo that the authorities cannot put people’s lives in danger by taking any abrupt decision during a pandemic.

Former advisor of World Health Organisation (WHO) Muzaherul Huq thinks it was a grave mistake not to take Covid vaccine offered by China in the first place.

Public health experts think there was administrative failure in handling of Covid crisis in the country and authorities failed to take right decisions on time.

Former advisor of World Health Organisation (WHO) Muzaherul Huq thinks it was a grave mistake not to take Covid vaccine offered by China in the first place.

There is no alternative to vaccinate people, he said adding the government should take any quality vaccine that can be stored in the country.

He said the government should take up a strategic plan and emphasise on vaccines developed by Russia and China while beefing up efforts to bring AstraZeneca vaccine from the USA.

Bangladesh now wants to buy 2 million doses of Covid vaccine as the stock runs out. It’s yet to be decided whether the vaccines would be procured through government or private companies.

Asked about the matter, the Chinese ambassador said discussions are on about agreement of procurement by government and China is positive in this end. But the problem is Bangladesh government only approved emergency use of Sinopharm just a week ago.

Li Jiming, however, thanked Bangladesh for its foresight to approve emergency use of Sinopharm vaccine as WHO registered its approval after Bangladesh on 7 May.

The ambassador also said it would take time for Bangladesh to get the Chinese vaccine commercially.

It is not certain when Bangladesh will get the vaccine, he said adding the China would try to supply Covid vaccine to Bangladesh before December, he added.

About manufacturing the vaccine jointly, the Chinese ambassador said Sinovac and Anhui Zhifei are continuing discussions about it.

He also said manufacturing the vaccine jointly would take time as there is a lack of factories and laboratories in Bangladesh.

There are a couple of Bangladeshi companies with capacity to manufacture the vaccine jointly with China, he added.