Coronavirus: Enough drug ingredients, says govt, refuses to go into detail

Union Health minister says India will not repatriate citizens stuck on ship in Japan

By Banjot Kaur
Published: Thursday 13 February 2020
Photo: @drharshvardhan / Twitter

There is enough stock of pharmaceutical ingredients to make drugs in India for the next two-three months, Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare, Harsh Vardhan said on February 13, 2020.

The minister’s reassurance came amid concerns over Chinese firms that manufacture the ingredients shutting down due to the COVID-19 outbreak in China.

There was no need to fear and hopefully, the firms would become operational again soon, the minister said while addressing a press conference in New Delhi on government preparedness to tackle the outbreak.

“You should not worry. There are (plans),” Vardhan said in response to a query about whether the Centre had a Plan B. However, he could not reveal the specifics of the plan and said he was in talks with the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers under which, the department of pharmaceuticals functions. 

Several drug manufacturers and India’s prominent pharma companies, including Cipla have warned that if production does not resume, companies would be short of raw materials by February-end.

India is heavily dependent on China, which is the leading manufactures of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) in the world. India depends on China for about 70 per cent of APIs in order to produce drugs of all types.

Vardhan also commented on the two Indian nationals who have tested positive and are currently isolated on board the ‘Diamond Princess’ cruise ship at the Japanese port of Yokohama.

“The Japanese government has isolated them. That is for the bigger welfare. Till the government of Japan allows, they can’t be repatriated to India. The Indian embassy is in touch with the Japanese government,” Vardhan said.

The ship has 3,000 people of various nationalities on board. Of them, 139 are Indian nationals — 132 crew members and six passengers. Other than the two Indian nationals, 172 other people on board have tested positive for COVID-19.

Six Indian crew members had shared a video on social media requesting Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help evacuate them. 

Vardhan said India was one of the first countries to start screening at airports, on January 17, even before World Health Organization (WHO) had realised the gravity of the situation.

The WHO has also asked all countries to share the genome sequences of positive cases so as to aid the research that it is leading.

Health secretary Preeti Sudan was sure that India had not shared the genome sequences of three positive Indian cases so far with the WHO.

“The National Institute of Virology (NIV) might have done the sequencing. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) director-general should be asked about it,” Sudan said when asked whether sequencing had been done or not.

Phone calls made by Down To Earth to ICMR director-general Balraram Bhargava and NIV head Priya Abraham went unanswered. India’s first positive case of COVID-19 was confirmed on January 30. This was important because when the first cluster of cases appeared in China, it shared genome sequences with the world in almost no time. 

Currently, 15,951 Indian passengers, who came from China were under surveillance, Vardhan said. Of them, 41 were in isolation wards as they had shown some symptoms which could be similar to a coronavirus infection. However, this did not mean they were positive cases till lab reports confirmed it, he emphasised. 

Those who had been put in quarantine camps run by the Indian Army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police, would be discharged after the 18th day of admission, provided their lab reports were negative and they showed no symptoms. Regarding the three positive cases of Kerala, Vardhan said one had been discharged and the other two were doing fine. 

To ensure that India did not fall short of N-95 masks and personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers, Vardhan said their export had also been stopped. As a goodwill gesture, India, however, was ready to export 15 items, including masks and PPE to China. 

Vardhan said the Prime Minister's Office as well as the Cabinet Secretariat, were involved in coordinating the efforts being done in India to ensure necessary preparations in the fight against the virus.

Japan confirmed its first death due to COVID-19 on February 13. This is the third death outside mainland China. Hong Kong and the Philippines have registered one death each before this.

The total death toll spiked to 1,310 on February 13. The total number of cases increased by 15,187 on February 13 in 24 hours and the tally reached 60,349.

This has, however, been attributed to the fact that China has now decided to not just include those cases as being positive that have been confirmed by lab reports but also those that have been clinically diagnosed by doctors even without reports. 

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