The Central government has announced the dropping of customs duty on COVID-19 vaccines, oxygen and equipment for the delivery of oxygen for a period of three months. The government said that the decision taken at a meeting chaired by the Prime Minister was to mitigate the ongoing crisis in oxygen supply across the country.

Scores of people on ventilator support have died in Delhi and Maharashtra as hospitals ran short of oxygen. Many hospitals have shut their doors to critical patients due to the shortage, while some hospital managements have approached the courts for a solution. While courts and governments have issued several orders to ensure smooth transport of oxygen and to prevent hoarding, the massive gap between demand and supply remains in many States.

India is increasingly looking abroad for means to solve the oxygen production and delivery crisis. The Ministry of Defence is airlifting 23 oxygen generating plants from Germany, while cryogenic tanks for transporting the gas are coming in from Singapore and Saudi Arabia. The Hindu has reported that the government and Indian embassies in several countries are now coordinating efforts to procure oxygen and ensure an undisrupted supply chain. Offers of help have come in from Russia. Even China and Pakistan, with whom there have been physical conflicts in recent times, have offered resources.

However, there has been some bad blood over the U.S.’s slow response to the crisis in India, with criticism that it was stockpiling vaccines that could be used in India and was also preventing export of raw materials needed by Pune-based SII to manufacture the Novovax vaccine.

These diplomatic efforts that form the background of the cut in customs duty is what makes this story important.(the Hindu)


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