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Trump says may retaliate; Govt rethinks export ban, says enough stocks at home

On April 4, after Trump made the request for supplies of HCQ in a phone call to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, New Delhi was “considering the request”, The Indian Express had reported.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi | Published: April 8, 2020 4:25:24 am
Coronavirus: Trump’s aggressive advocacy of malaria drug divides medical community President Donald Trump listens during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Monday, April 6, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

SHORTLY after US President Donald Trump said that “there may be retaliation” if India does not agree to export Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), a key anti-malaria drug, India Tuesday said that it will supply essential drugs to “some nations who have been particularly badly affected” by COVID-19 and to “neighbouring countries who are dependent on India’s capabilities”.

New Delhi also said that a “comprehensive assessment” of India’s domestic requirements has confirmed the “availability of medicines for all possible contingencies”. It said that the stock position “could allow” Indian companies to meet the export commitments they have already made.

On April 4, after Trump made the request for supplies of HCQ in a phone call to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, New Delhi was “considering the request”, The Indian Express had reported.

Incidentally, that same day, the government had banned exports of HCQ, a drug Trump has repeatedly touted as a “game changer” in the fight against COVID-19 but whose effectiveness is being debated. Besides the US, Brazil, some European countries, and neighbouring countries too, are asking for HCQ.

HCQ tablets are recognised as a prophylactic for those on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19 — doctors, nurses, paramedics and first responders — and can be used to treat patients infected with the virus.

Articulating the shift in the Indian government’s position, the newly appointed official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs, Anurag Srivastava, said Tuesday: “Our first obligation is to ensure that there are adequate stocks of (COVID-related) medicines for the requirement of our own people. In order to ensure this, some temporary steps were taken to restrict exports of a number of pharmaceutical products.”

“Given the enormity of the COVID-19 pandemic, India has always maintained that the international community must display strong solidarity and cooperation. This approach also guided our evacuation of nationals of other countries. In view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic, it has been decided that India would licence paracetamol and HCQ in appropriate quantities to all our neighbouring countries who are dependent on our capabilities. We will also be supplying these essential drugs to some nations who have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic. We would therefore discourage any speculation in this regard or any attempts to politicise the matter,” the MEA spokesperson said.

Early on Tuesday (India time), Trump had said “there may be retaliation” if India does not agree to export hydroxychloroquine.

“I would be surprised if he (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) would, you know, because India does very well with the United States,” Trump said at a White House press briefing when a reporter asked whether he was worried about “retaliation to the ban on export of medical goods” from India.

“I don’t like that decision, I didn’t hear that that was his decision. I know that he stopped it for other countries. I spoke to him yesterday, we had a very good talk and we’ll see whether or not that’s his… For many years, they’ve been taken advantage of the United States on trade. So I would be surprised if that were his decision. He’d have to tell me that. I spoke to him Sunday morning, called him, and I said, we’d appreciate you allowing our supply to come out. If he doesn’t allow it to come out. That would be OK. But of course, there may be retaliation. Why wouldn’t there be?” the US President said.

With more than 350,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and over 10,000 deaths, the US has emerged as the new epicentre of the pandemic.

Here’s a quick Coronavirus guide from Express Explained to keep you updated: What can cause a COVID-19 patient to relapse after recovery? | COVID-19 lockdown has cleaned up the air, but this may not be good news. Here’s why | Can alternative medicine work against the coronavirus? | A five-minute test for COVID-19 has been readied, India may get it too | How India is building up defence during lockdown | Why only a fraction of those with coronavirus suffer acutely | How do healthcare workers protect themselves from getting infected? | What does it take to set up isolation wards?

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