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India says shipments of hydroxychloroquine will resume after US exerts pressure

Move comes 24 hours after US President warns of "retaliation" if export ban was not lifted

India has relaxed an export ban on anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine just 24 hours after US President Donald Trump warned of “retaliation” if the measure was not lifted.

“After having confirmed the availability of medicines for all possible contingencies currently envisaged, these restrictions have been largely lifted,” said Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesman Anurag Srivastava in a statement Tuesday. “With regard to paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine, they will be kept in a licensed category and their demand position [will] be continuously monitored.”

He added that the current stock position of the drugs meant Indian pharmaceutical manufacturers should be able to meet the export commitments they had contracted.

The MEA also said India would be supplying paracetamol and hydroxychloroquine to neighbouring countries dependent on its medicines supply.

US President Donald Trump had telephoned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday, asking him to lift an existing ban on exports of hydroxychloroquine, which the US administration has touted as a potential treatment for sufferers of COVID-19.

Earlier that day, India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade had reinforced the blanket ban on hydroxychloroquine exports “without any exception”.

“The two leaders agreed to remain in touch on the issue of global supply chains for critical pharmaceuticals and medical supplies and to ensure they continue to function as smoothly as possible during the global health crisis,” said White House spokesman Judd Deer in a tweet on Saturday after the phone conversation.

In a tweet posted on Monday, Dr Sharvil Patel, managing director of Zydus Cadila, the largest supplier of hydroxychloroquine to the US market, said the company was ramping up production to meet requirements.

“Our concern is to make the drug available to those who require it,” he said.

On Monday, India lifted export restrictions on twelve active pharmaceutical ingredients and their associated finished products with immediate effect, according to the country’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT).

The temporary restrictions were imposed on March 3 to ensure domestic supply amid slowing imports from China, a key producer of the ingredients, as the growing coronavirus pandemic impacted global pharmaceutical supply chains.

The list of products freed from export restrictions includes antibiotics clindamycin and erythromycin, anti-infective tinidazole and some vitamins but hydroxychloroquine and over-the-counter painkiller paracetamol were notable omissions.

While the Indian government has so far provided no reason for the overturning of the restrictions, API supply from China is understood to have restarted as the country comes out of lockdown.

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