Youth Congress volunteers help deliver oxygen to the New Zealand High Commission in New Delhi (Twitter Screenshot)
Kiwi diplomats in India have fuelled a political spat over the country’s Covid-19 crisis, after a supposedly erroneous tweet asking for help with critical media supplies.
New Zealand’s High Commission in India has been forced to apologise to the country’s government after asking opposition politicians for oxygen supplies via social media, as India faces the depths of a major Covid-19 outbreak.
Oxygen for Staff
This morning (May 3, 2021), Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told the AM Show that the plea related to a sick local Indian staff member within the High Commission compound.
In a Sunday morning (NZT) tweet to youth wing members of the Indian National Congress opposition, the High Commission asked: “Could you please help with oxygen cylinder urgently at the New Zealand High Commission? Thank you.”
The tweet was subsequently deleted, with a follow-up message saying: “We are trying all sources to arrange for oxygen cylinders urgently and our appeal has unfortunately been misinterpreted, for which we are sorry.”
Tweet in error
Indian Youth Congress president Srinivas BV shared a video on Twitter showing that the High Commission had accepted a delivery of oxygen tanks, adding that diplomatic staff had thanked the youth politicians for their help “as patient inside embassy (sic) was critically ill”.
In a statement, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) spokesman said that the tweet had been “issued in error”.
“It has since been withdrawn and we have apologised, including to the Indian government, for the misunderstanding it may have caused,” he said.
The spokesman said that MFAT had nothing else to add “except to say that the safety, health and welfare of our staff in India and across the global network is a priority.”
Update- New Zealand high commission opened gates of the embassy and accepted cylinders.— Srinivas B V (@srinivasiyc) May 2, 2021
Also, they thanked the #SOSIYC team for this quick relief as patient inside embassy was critically ill. pic.twitter.com/vu6TUhD1r8
The Hindu Report
Indian website The Hindu reported that there were several cases of Ciovid-19 at the High Commission, “out of which two are (so) serious that (they) require oxygen support immediately.”
The website said that the High Commission “ostensibly went public after waiting for oxygen cylinders for many hours,” having set up a healthcare unit inside its premises.
‘Not appropriate’ says National
National Foreign Affairs Spokesman Gerry Brownlee told Newsroom that it was not appropriate that such a deliberate tweet had allegedly been “sent in error,” and called on MFAT to be more forthright about the situation in the diplomatic compound and why the Congress Party had been approached.
“Simply saying ‘sent in error’ is I think an error on the part of MFAT, who have much to explain,” Mr Brownlee said.
The efforts of India’s Congress opposition to provide medical supplies – and the publicity surrounding their work – have attracted the ire of the ruling BJP government as it struggles to respond to a surge in cases, with over 3600 deaths and nearly 400,000 new cases on Sunday.
Diplomatic Missions in need
After senior Congress politician Jairam Ramesh criticised the Indian government for “sleeping” after the Philippines embassy reportedly asked the Youth Congress for oxygen supplies, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar claimed that it had been an “unsolicited supply” and accused the youth wing of seeking “cheap publicity.”
The country’s Ministry of External Affairs has since issued a statement urging High Commissions and Embassies not to “hoard” essential supplies including oxygen.
“The Chief of Protocol and Heads of Divisions are in continuous touch with all High Commissions/Embassies and MEA is responding to their medical demands, especially those related to Covid. This includes facilitating their hospital treatment,” the Ministry said.
Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom’s National Affairs Editor, covering Foreign Affairs and Trade, Housing, and other issues of national significance. The above article has been published under a Special Agreement