India announces US$6.7b in cheap loans for vaccine, health firms
India's central bank released US$6.7 billion in cheap financing for vaccine makers, hospitals and other health firms on Wednesday, to counter the devastating coronavirus surge gripping the country.
Reserve Bank of India governor Shaktikanta Das said cheap loans would be available until March 31 next year, and vowed to deploy "unconventional" measures if the crisis worsens.
He spoke as India announced a record 3,780 deaths in 24 hours as well as 382,000 cases.
"The devastating speed with which the virus affects different regions of the country has to be matched by swift and wide-ranging actions," he said.
With hospitals complaining of critical shortages of oxygen, beds and vaccines, the new measures aim to improve access to emergency health care during the pandemic, he said. It will be easier for banks to give cheap loans to hospitals, oxygen manufacturers and even patients.
"The immediate objective is to preserve human life and restore livelihoods through all means possible," Das added.
India's underfunded health care system has struggled to cope with the latest COVID-19 onslaught, with patients dying in hospital parking lots due to a lack of beds and oxygen.
The country has tried to claw back lost ground after a stringent, monthslong lockdown caused the labor market to collapse and the economy to contract by nearly a quarter between April and June last year.
Asia's third-largest economy was in the throes of a prolonged slowdown even before the pandemic, and the hit to global activity from the virus and one of the world's strictest lockdowns combined to deal the country a severe blow.
Fearing a repeat of last year's economic devastation, authorities have so far imposed limited restrictions, attempting to strike a balance between keeping the economy going and targeting outbreaks in the hardest-hit regions of the country.
New Delhi is hoping the economy will get a further boost from a massive vaccination drive that kicked off in January, with 160 million shots administered so far in the country of 1.3 billion.