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Bangladesh, which neighbours India, began a severe lockdown on Monday in response to spiralling infections from the Delta variant. People are restricted to their homes, with offices closed, traffic shut down and the security forces enforcing compliance.

The South Asian country of around 170 million people recorded nearly 6,000 cases last Friday. Authorities say that districts near the Indian border are suffering especially badly, with hospitals in the cities of Khulna and Rajshahi overwhelmed.

Bangladesh "has a 55 per cent week-over-week increase in cases, driven largely by the Delta variant," a White House official said, explaining how the country made it onto the urgent list.

President Joe Biden has declared the United States the world's vaccine "arsenal" in the war on Covid-19.

The role reflects US pharmaceutical power but also Biden's emphasis on restoring Washington's leadership around the world after the tempestuous and often chaotic years under Donald Trump.

US officials deny they are competing in "vaccine diplomacy" with authoritarian China and Russia, which have used nationally produced vaccines to fill the supply vacuum in less-developed regions during the pandemic.

No 'strings attached'

Like many other countries, Bangladesh has desperately sought more vaccines and has not been picky about where they come from.

Health minister Zahid Maleque said in May that the country wants to buy 50 million doses from China's Sinopharm.

It also wants to buy five million Sputnik doses, foreign minister AK Abdul Momen said after meeting the Russian ambassador this month.

The White House pointedly said that its vaccine shipments -- mostly made through the World Health Organization's Covax program -- come free in all senses.

"We are sharing these doses not to secure favours or extract concessions. Our vaccines do not come with strings attached. We are doing this with the singular objective of saving lives," the official said.

The Biden administration has committed to donating $2 billion to Covax and also purchasing 500 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for the African Union and 92 poorer countries. At the recent G7 summit in Britain, US partners agreed to donate another 500 million doses.

"Putting an end to this pandemic requires eliminating it around the world," the White House official said. "This is a unique moment in history and it requires American leadership."

Additionally, some 80 million doses from the US supply are earmarked for foreign allocation by the end of June.

Two million doses of the Pfizer vaccine are now being shipped to Peru, and 2.5 million Moderna doses are going to Pakistan, the White House said Monday. Another 2.5 million doses are headed to Colombia.

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