India curbs generic drug exports as virus fears grow

NEW DELHI: India, the world’s main supplier of generic drugs, has restricted the export of 26 pharmaceutical ingredients and the medicines made from them, including paracetamol, as the coronavirus outbreak plays havoc with supply chains.

Indian drugmakers rely on China, the source of the virus outbreak, for almost 70% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) for their medicines. Industry experts say they are likely to face shortages if the epidemic drags on.

“Export of specified APIs and formulations made from these APIs… is hereby ‘restricted’ with immediate effect and till further orders,” the Director-General of Foreign Trade said in a statement on Tuesday, without explaining the extent of the restrictions.

The list given by the government, of 26 APIs and their formulations, account for 10% of all Indian pharmaceutical exports.

“Irrespective of the ban, some of these molecules may face shortages for the next couple of months,” Dinesh Dua, chairman, Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India, told Reuters.

“If coronavirus is not contained, then in that case there could be acute shortages,” Dua said.

The council falls under the federal commerce ministry.

Separately, the government said on Tuesday it had detected “high viral load” in six people who had been in contact with a patient who contracted the virus in the capital New Delhi.

The people have been kept in isolation and their samples are being sent to India’s National Institute of Virology for confirmation, the government said in a statement.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to quell public fears.

“There is no need to panic,” he said in a tweet.

“Had an extensive review regarding preparedness on the Covid-19 Novel Coronavirus. Different ministries & states are working together, from screening people arriving in India to providing prompt medical attention,” he added.

On Monday, India reported three new cases of coronavirus, including an Italian national in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. The patient in New Delhi was being closely monitored but stable, the government said.

The Indian ministry of health did not immediately give further details on the cases when contacted by Reuters.