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Photo: ANI
Photo: ANI

Covid-19: Indian gloves export to Serbia causes row over gear shortage

  • The European Union has announced a 93 million euro package for Serbia to help fight the deadly virus
  • The commerce ministry said the consignment mostly had surgical gloves, which are amply available in India

NEW DELHI: A controversy has erupted over reports of an Indian cargo shipment to Serbia carrying personal protection equipment (PPE) at a time when India struggles to treat coronavirus patients due to the shortage of protective gear for health workers.

"The 2nd cargo Boeing 747 with 90 tonne of medical protective equipment landed from India to Belgrade today. The transportation of valuable supplies purchased by @SerbianGov has been fully funded by the #EU while @UNDPSerbia organised the flight & ensured the fastest possible delivery," the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Serbia, said on the micro blogging and social networking website Twitter.

Earlier this week, the European Union announced a 93 million euro package for Serbia to help fight the deadly covid-19.

PPE kits are used by medical personnel working in isolation areas and intensive care units (ICU) to protect them from infections. The Indian government has urged domestic firms to manufacture and ramp up supplies to meet the increasing demand for PPEs.

“What is this happening Mr Prime Minister @narendramodi? While frontline Indian health workers are struggling for protective equipment we are supplying Serbia. @airindiain to fly out Germans & 90 tonnes of protective medical equipment to Serbia. Are we nuts? This is CRIMINAL," said Manish Tiwari, national spokesperson for Indian National Congress, on Twitter.

However, officials in the commerce ministry on Wednesday said the consignment mostly had surgical gloves, which are amply available in India, adding that there is no ban on the export of these gloves.

“The exports of surgical gloves that took place through Kochi was against the order that had been accepted earlier. Further, these are exports of surgical gloves and not of examination gloves," the Ministry of Commerce said in an official statement.

“This export would not in any way interfere in the work of health care workers and professionals while tackling covid-19 pandemic. Further, there is no restriction on the export of surgical gloves presently," it said.

A person familiar with the development said the item exported to Serbia “was not the the prohibited list."

“Restricted items can be exported on a case-by-case basis" with the permission of the Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), the person said.

As the customs department oversees exports, so they allow ratified consignments only, Kochi airport spokesperson PS Jayan said.

“It has come to our attention that there is some false information in the media that the cargo plane from India to Serbia also carried masks, in addition to latex gloves. The fact is that the entire consignment consisted exclusively latex gloves purchased from Indian companies," Vladimir Maric, Ambassador of Serbia, told Mint.

“True friends stand together during difficult times and we are grateful to the government of India for facilitating this shipment from the administrative side. We also hope to benefit from vast Indian expertise in medicine and pharmacology in our common fight against covid-19," Maric said.

Meanwhile, defending the export of medical equipment to Serbia, which has already recorded over 900 covid-19 cases and 23 deaths, the medical devices industry experts said such an exchange, export or donation of medical items during a health crisis, should not be criticised as India also seeks similar help from other nations.

Meanwhile, India has been scouring foreign suppliers of PPE kits.

A Singapore-based online platform has been identified, which can supply 10 lakh PPE kits and an order has been placed through the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to procure them. Another supplier based in Korea, which has tie ups with production companies in Vietnam and Turkey, has been identified with daily production capacity of over 1 lakh PPE kits. The MEA has placed order with the Korean company for supply of 20 lakh PPE kits.

“There are no shortages of surgical sterile gloves. There are shortages of PPE kits and coveralls and masks. As the government of India is reaching out to other countries to source critical PPE masks, coverall, kits, ventilators, etc. similarly other countries are also reaching out to India. Covid-19 has created a culture of exchange of ideas, components, materials, etc. to address the crisis," said Rajiv Nath, forum coordinator, Association of Indian Manufacturers of Medical Devices (AiMeD).

“India had a spare capacity of 786 million gloves when we last checked with manufacturers in February middle, so no harm in giving aid to those who need it if no shortfall with us in this global community," he said.

(Elizabeth Roche, Asit Misra and Nidheesh M K contributed to the story.)

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