The Indian government on March 25 banned export of anti-malarial drug hydroxycloroquine to ensure that enough stock is available in the domestic market. Hydroxycloroquine has been recommended for treating healthcare workers handling coronavirus cases and the asymptomatic household contacts of laboratory-confirmed cases.

“The export of hydroxycloroquine and formulations made from hydroxycloroquine is prohibited with immediate effect,” read the Directorate General of Foreign Trade notification. It, however, said the government will allow export of the medicine on humanitarian grounds on case-to-case basis on the Ministry of External Affairs’ recommendation.

The notification also clarified that the export will be allowed in case of shipments where irrevocable letter of credit has been issued or full advance payment has been received. But it is subject to submission of documentary evidence.

On Monday, the Indian Council for Medical Research released a statement recommending the use of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a preventive medicine for those who face a high risk of coronavirus infection, provided they do not have any symptoms of the disease. The Drug Controller General of India has approved only restricted use of the medicine in emergency situations.

However, the drug is already out of stock in many pharmacies as panicked Indians have started hoarding hydroxychloroquine and another anti-malarial medicine chloroquine in the hope that the drugs are effective against Covid-19. The buying spree began even before the ICMR announcement – United States President Donald Trump set it off before taking a closer look at the concerns around the use of the drugs to fight Covid-19.

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On Tuesday, the government banned exports of a host of medical equipment, including sanitisers, ventilators and surgical masks. There is already a shortage of hand sanitisers and face masks in the market amid the coronavirus outbreak as people resorted to panic buying.

Earlier this month, the Centre capped the maximum retail price of hand sanitisers at Rs 100 per 200 ml bottle till June 30 keeping in mind the shortage after people started hoarding. The price of a two-ply surgical mask has been capped at Rs 8 and that of a three-ply surgical mask at Rs 10. The price of melt brown non-woven fabric used in manufacturing masks shall not be more than the prices prevailing on the day one month prior to March 13, that is, the prices prevailing on February 12.

“The price cap has been imposed taking into account the sharp increase in prices of raw materials used in making of face masks and hand sanitiser,” Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan had said.

The health ministry has so far confirmed 562 coronavirus cases and said that 512 of these are active cases. India’s toll from Covid-19 cases is now nine. India on Wednesday also entered a 21-day lockdown, which is being seen as the only way to break the chain of infection. The lockdown will be in effect till April 14.

Globally, the pandemic has infected 4,21,792 people, and killed 18,883 across 169 countries or territories, according to an estimate by Johns Hopkins University.