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In a U-turn, China's state-run Sichuan Airlines on Monday retracted its announcement to suspend cargo flights taking crucial supplies like oxygen concentrators to India and said that it was working out a new plan to resume the services.

A logistics arm under Sichuan Airlines said that it was discussing a new plan to resume cargo services to India, as the country has been going through a COVID-19 resurgence, state-run Global Times reported.

The response came after Indian media reported that Sichuan Airlines had suspended all its cargo flights to India for 15 days, and said that such a move brings "major disruption" to private traders' efforts to buy medical supplies, including oxygen concentrators, from China, the daily’s said.

"We are re-evaluating the original plan of suspending cargo services to India, and actively discussing a new plan to guarantee cargo services to the region," the report quoted the airlines as saying in reply to its queries.

In a letter to the sales agents on Monday, the Sichuan Chuanhang Logistics Co. Ltd, the company which is part of the Sichuan Airlines, said the airline has suspended its cargo flights on six routes, including Xian to Delhi, amid hectic efforts by private traders from both sides to procure oxygen concentrators from China.

In the letter seen by PTI, the company said, "in the face of sudden changes in the epidemic situation (in India), in order to reduce the number of imported cases, it is decided" to suspend the flights for the next 15 days.

The Airlines operates about 11 cargo flights to different destinations in India.

Sichuan Airlines usually has two regular flights from the Chinese mainland to India, but neither flight had taken off on Monday, the Global Times report said.

From April 1 to April 25, the number of cargo flights from the Chinese mainland to India averaged five per day, including carried by Sichuan Airlines and SF Airlines, it said.

It quoted sources as saying that so far the cargo service of SF Airlines is normal.

The suspension of cargo flights came as a surprise to agents and freight forwarders who are frantically trying to procure the oxygen concentrators from China.

There are also complaints of Chinese manufacturers jacking up the prices by 35 to 40 per cent. The freight charges have been increased to over 20 per cent, said Siddharth Sinha of Sino Global Logistics, a Shanghai-based freight forwarding company.

He told PTI here that the Sichuan Airlines decision to cancel flights has caused severe disruption to attempts by private traders in both the countries to secure quick supplies of the Oxygen concentrators to rush to India in view of the dire situation.

Now it becomes very challenging to rush the supplies as they have to be rerouted through Singapore and other countries through different airlines, he said.

The suspension of the flights is surprising as there is no crew change in India and the same crew flies the aircraft back, he said.

There are also virtually no Indians travelling to China from India other than diplomats as China has suspended visas for Indians since November and flights remained banned.

Answering questions on Sichuan Airlines decision to suspend cargo flights to India, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin earlier said, "China has been following closely the epidemic situation in India and expressed readiness early on to help curb the latest surge."

"At present, the two sides are communicating with one another," he said in the official transcript of comments posted on the foreign ministry's website.

Wang declined to react to China's, Sichuan Airlines, decision to suspend its cargo flights to several destinations to India which was expected to seriously cause disruptions to private traders' efforts to procure oxygen concentrators badly needed in India.

"As for the operation of the specific flights of the airlines you mentioned, I suggest you check with the company concerned," he said.

He, also did not confirm a tweet by the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka stating that China began to supply oxygen concentrators to India. "800 Oxygen Concentrators have been airlifted today from #HongKong to #Delhi; 10,000 more in a week. #China is keeping in touch with #India for urgent needs," said a tweet put out by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo. Asked for his reaction to the tweet, Wang said, "China is ready to provide necessary support and help to India in its fight against the new wave of infections. If India raises any specific demand, we will offer support and help to the best of our capability".

About Chinese manufacturers hiking prices of the medical supplies to India, he said, "As far as I know, that's normal business interaction. We stand ready to offer support and assistance to the best of our capability if the Indian side informs us of its specific needs."

Chinese Ambassador to India Sun Weidong in a tweet said his country "firmly supports" India in fighting against COVID19. "We will encourage and guide Chinese companies to actively participate into the cooperation in facilitating various needed medical supplies for India," he tweeted.

India is struggling with a second wave of the pandemic with more than 3,00,000 daily new coronavirus cases being reported in the past few days, and hospitals are reeling under a shortage of medical oxygen and beds.

The suspension of cargo flights also came as a surprise to the Indian officials here as it came in the backdrop of official statements offering support and assistance to India.

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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