India

Coronavirus | Policy cloud delays Brazil vaccine flight


New Delhi has declined to comment on the Brazilian shipment of vaccines, and whether the Brazilian plane would receive the necessary permissions in time.

A special plane from Brazil to carry the first exports of Covishield, the India-made coronavirus vaccine, was delayed on Friday, amid confusion over clearance for the shipment, officials in New Delhi said.

The flight, due to leave Brazil on Thursday and return on Saturday with 2 million doses of the vaccine, was put off, the Brazilian Ministry of Health announced, citing logistical and licensing issues.

Also read | Bharat Biotech to supply Covaxin to Brazil

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, through the Embassy in New Delhi, is in constant contact with the Indian authorities, following the letter from President Jair Bolsonaro to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of January 8, to ensure that the aircraft’s arrival authorised and that the cargo export license is granted without any hitches. The Brazilian Air Force is also involved in issues of authorisation to fly over and land the aircraft,” the Health Ministry in a statement issued in Brasilia said.

According to the officials, Brazilian authorities have now intimated them that the plane would leave Recife in Brazil for the 15,000 km, 18-hour journey to Mumbai on Saturday morning (IST), but only if it receives clearances from India.

The MEA declined to comment specifically on the Brazilian shipment of vaccines, and whether the Brazilian plane would receive the necessary permissions in time.

Also read | Vaccine can turn people into crocodiles, says Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro

When asked on Thursday how soon India might release vaccines for export to other countries including those in the neighbourhood like Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka who have also put in requests, MEA spokesperson Anurag Srivastava had said that it was “too early” to tell.

“As you know, the vaccination process is just starting in India,” Mr. Srivastava said, referring to the plan for the vaccine rollout in India beginning Saturday. “It is too early to give a specific response on the supplies to other countries as we are still assessing production schedules and availability to take decisions in this regard. This may take some time,” he added.

However, Brazilian officials cited a statement made by Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan on January 5, saying in “absolutely clear” terms that there was no hold on exports of the vaccines, adding that the Health Ministry, Commerce Ministry, and the Directorate General of Foreign Trade had all not issued any orders to ban exports. On December 31, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs had also amended the ‘Courier Imports and Exports’ regulations to facilitate all exports and imports of COVID-19 vaccines without any value additions.

Also read | India says COVID-19 vaccine supply to other countries will take ‘some time’

The Health Ministry did not respond to a question from The Hindu on whether its orders were at variance with the MEA’s statement that suggests exports would be considered only at a later stage.

Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa is expected to meet on Sunday to clear the use of COVID vaccines, including Covishied, Covaxin, the other Indian-made Bharat Biotech manufactured vaccine, and the Chinese Sinovac, manufactured in Brazil’s Butantan Institute, after which the government hopes to distribute the vaccines across the country.

“In total, Brazil already has 354 million doses of the vaccine against COVID-19 contracted with international laboratories, in addition to enough syringes to apply the vaccine to all Brazilians,” the Brazilian Ministry of Health said in its statement.

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