The Union health ministry on Thursday limited the sale and distribution of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, a day after it banned its export to ensure that it was not misused. The Centre on Wednesday had stopped exporting the drug to ensure that enough stock was available in the domestic market.

“...the Central Government is satisfied that the drug ‘Hydroxychloroquine’ is essential to meet the requirements of emergency arising due to pandemic COVID-19 and in the public interest, it is necessary and expedient to regulate and restrict the sale and distribution of the drug ‘Hydroxychloroquine’ and preparation based thereon for preventing their misuse,” the health ministry’s order read.

The Union health ministry invoked Section 26B of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, to direct that sale by retail of “any preparation containing the drug Hydroxychloroquine” will be according to the specifications in Schedule H1 to the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules, 1945.

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On Monday, the Indian Council of Medical Research authorised physicians to use the malaria drug. The medical body’s National Task Force for the coronavirus, however, warned that the measure must not instil a “sense of false security” and urged all individuals to continue taking all preventive measures and practise social distancing to avoid getting infected.

The drug will be only given to asymptomatic healthcare workers who are involved in the treatment of suspected or confirmed patients of Covid-19, and household contacts who are looking after people who tested positive.

Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has killed 17 people and infected 724 people in India, according to the Union health ministry. Globally, the confirmed cases of the virus crossed half a million on Friday as the pandemic has infected 5,31,708 people and killed 24,053 deaths across 176 countries or territories, according to an estimate by Johns Hopkins University. Out of all the confirmed cases in the world 1,22,672 people have recovered.