The Centre on Tuesday waived import duty on antiviral drug remdesivir, used to treat coronavirus patients, amid the massive surge in cases in India. Raw materials needed to manufacture the drug will also be exempted from the tax.

The exemption will remain in effect till the end of October, the Department of Revenue said in an order.

Union Minister Piyush Goyal said the decision will help increase the supply of remdesivir and reduce its cost, bringing relief to coronavirus patients.

India is currently battling a second wave of the pandemic. On Wednesday, the country reported 2.95 lakh new coronavirus cases and 2,023 deaths, in another record high since the pandemic broke out in January 2020. The country now has 1,56,16,130 cases. The toll rose to 1,82,553.

Remdesivir is being used to treat critical patients, even though medical opinion about its effectiveness has been mixed. Experts have warned that it’s no “silver bullet”. The World Health Organization had in November issued a conditional recommendation against the use of remdesivir in hospitalised patients, saying there was no evidence that the drug improved survival and other outcomes.

But in the absence of any proven drug, doctors are increasingly prescribing it in India, driving its demand across the country. In recent weeks, social media has been flooded with desperate pleas to find access to remdesivir. The shortage of supply is also leading to the black-marketing of the drug.

On Monday, the health ministry had also said that remdesivir is not a life-saving drug and that its “unnecessary or irrational” use on Covid-19 patients is unethical.

However, keeping in mind the huge demand for the drug, the government had last week decided to ramp up its production and cut down the price.

Also read: Interview: ‘Remdesivir doesn’t save lives – but desperate families demand that doctors prescribe it’