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Restrictions on anti-malarial drug partially ease

India has partially eased restrictions on export of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol, cited by some as key to the fight against Covid-19, to fulfil existing orders and to meet the needs of neighbouring countries, but only after building its own stockpile of the drug.

The move came hours ahead of a conference by US President Donald Trump, who spoke of “retaliation” if India didn’t do so.

People familiar with developments, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said existing orders from other countries, including the US, for hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol will be cleared only after meeting all domestic requirements.

The external affairs ministry said the two drugs will be supplied in “appropriate quantities” to all neighbouring countries dependent on India’s capabilities.

India, the largest producer of hydroxychloroquine, initially banned exports of the drug on March 25 to ensure adequate domestic supplies. Rules were tightened on April 4 by barring exports from special economic zones (SEZs) and export-oriented units (EOUs), where such bans don’t usually apply.

However, Trump and Brazil President  called on India to permit the supply of the drug to cope with Covid-19 cases in their countries. Early on Tuesday, Trump spoke about “retaliation” if India didn’t lift its hold on US orders.

But even before Trump warned India of retaliation, the Modi government had communicated to all countries, including the US, the change in policy to facilitate supply of critical drugs through institutionalised channels. The empowered committee chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided on Monday to lift export restrictions on 14 drugs and to licence the export of hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol after reconciling with domestic demand.

The department of pharmaceuticals under the ministry of chemicals and fertilizers and the external affairs ministry will decide on allocations on a case-to-case basis in view of the humanitarian situation related to the pandemic, the people said.

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