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India restricts exports of common drugs on fear of coronavirus shortages

March 3, 2020, 2:41 PM UTC

India, the world’s largest maker of generic drugs, placed restrictions on the export of some common medicines as concerns grow over shortages of chemical ingredients with many manufacturers in China shut due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The drugs include over-the-counter painkiller and fever reducer paracetamol and finished pills that include it. Similar export restrictions have been placed on the common antibiotic metronidazole, various versions of vitamin B and eight other medicinal chemicals, according to a notice from the Indian government Tuesday.

Though India is the source of about 20% of the world’s generic drug supply, the country is dependent on China for about 66% of the chemical components needed to make them. A recent analysis by the Indian government found that as many as 450 drug ingredients could be impacted by China’s efforts to contain the coronavirus, including a complete lock down of Hubei province, a center of the country’s drug industry.

“I think there will be in the short term or midterm some shortages,” said Jagdish Dore, who runs pharmaceutical-industry consultancy Sidvim LifeSciences in Mumbai. “The whole supply chain will be disrupted, partly from China and partly from India.”

Drugmakers often hold between two and three months’ stock of key ingredients, but with factories in Hubei shut for a sixth week those stocks may be starting to dwindle. Even though the coronavirus outbreak seems to be slowing in China, its continued spread around the world is hampering economic output and trade.

“If there is a potential shortage building up of critical medicines, then there has to be affirmative action taken to ensure that supplies are available to Indian citizens,” said Ranjit Shahani, a former head of Novartis AG’s Indian unit. “If there’s total lockdown in some of the states or areas where these things are made then it’s going to impact the world.”

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