Days after its decision to exempt days basic Customs Duty on Remdesivir and its Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API), the Centre on Saturday waived Customs Duty and health cess on the import of Covid-19 vaccines and oxygen. The waiver will include import of equipment related to supplying patients - whether due to Covid-19 or otherwise - with oxygen, such as generators, storage tanks, filling systems and concentrators.
These decisions were announced after a high-level meet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as India battles a devastating second wave of Covid infections.
The Centre has also appointed a nodal officer to deal with the customs clearance issues. This, the Centre said, would "boost availability of these items, as well as make them cheaper.”
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The ministry of finance in a release said, “It was suggested that import of equipment related to providing oxygen to patients needs to be expedited. In order to augment their production and availability and to meet the rising demand, it was decided to grant full exemption from Basic Customs Duty and health cess on import of the following items related to Oxygen and Oxygen related equipment for a period of three months with immediate effect.’’
As per the PM’s direction, the department of revenue has nominated Gaurav Masaldan, Joint Secretary, Customs, as the nodal officer for issues related to customs clearance and thereby to ensure seamless and quick custom clearance of such equipment.
These decisions came close on the heels of a slew of measures taken by the Centre to improve supply of oxygen and medical supplies. IAF planes are bringing in cryogenic oxygen tanks from Singapore. IAF is also transporting oxygen tanks in the country to reduce travel times.
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Moreover, the Centre has proposed to import 50,000 MT of oxygen to meet the rising demand. It has sanctioned 162 pressure swing adsorption (PSA) technology based plants for installation in public health facilities in all states at the cost of Rs 201-58 crore. Out of this, 33 have already been installed. The Centre hopes that 59 plants will be installed by the end of April and 80 plants by the end of May.
In a bid to tackle the rising shortage of Remdesivir, the Centre has approved 25 new manufacturing sites for its production. The production has been ramped up to 90 lakh vials a month from 40 lakh vials a month. The Centre has estimated that the daily production will soon go up to 3 lakh vials.
As far as vaccination is concerned, the Centre has made pricing, procurement, eligibility and administration of vaccines flexible in Phase 3 drive. All stakeholders are given flexibility to customise to local needs and vaccine manufacturers have been incentivised to further scale up their production and attract new national and international players.