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Employees inspect tablets as they move along the production line at a pharmaceutical plant in Verna, in the western state of Goa, India, in a June 9, 2017, file photo.

DANISH SIDDIQUI/Reuters

India’s top pharmaceuticals export group said the government’s curbs on some drug exports amid the spreading coronavirus outbreak has caused panic in Europe and will severely impact businesses in the sector.

India, the world’s main supplier of generic drugs, restricted the export of 26 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) and the medicines made from them, in a move seemingly aimed at tackling possible domestic shortages of medicines.

On Wednesday, Dinesh Dua, chairman of the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council of India (Pharmexcil), told Reuters that some of the restricted APIs and medicines were widely exported to Europe and the United States.

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“I am getting a huge number of calls from Europe because it is very sizeably dependent on Indian formulations and we control almost 26 per cent of the European formulations in the generic space. So they are panicking,” Dua said.

India’s list of restricted medicines account for 10 per cent of its total pharmaceutical exports and includes several antibiotics, as well as paracetamol, a common pain reliever also sold as acetaminophen.

The restrictions could hurt India’s image as a pharmacy to the world and would impact shipments which were already lined up for export at warehouses and ports, Pharmexcil argued in a letter to India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade (DGFT), which was reviewed by Reuters.

“(This) would severely impact our members,” said the letter, which urged the government to allow exports of drugs manufactured before the restrictions kicked in.

The DGFT did not respond to a request for comment.

Pharmexcil’s Dua told Reuters there were $10-million worth of drugs affected by the curbs currently at Indian ports or close to being readied for export.

Pharmexcil counts dozens of pharmaceutical firms such as Pfizer Ltd and Abbott among its members. The council falls under the federal commerce ministry.

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Indian drugmakers rely on China, the source of the virus outbreak, for almost 70 per cent of the APIs for their medicines.

Out of the 26 listed as “restricted”, 13 APIs are sourced from the Hubei province in China, Dua said.

China’s central Hubei province is the epicentre of the outbreak, which has now claimed more than 3,000 lives and infected more than 90,000 people globally.

The curb in exports are likely to impact countries in South East Asia, Latin America and Africa, industry experts said.

On Tuesday, the chief of WHO operations support and logistics, Paul Molinaro, said that the organization was setting up a group to look at further repercussions in the market that might stem from India’s move.

“At the moment it’s not as restrictive as we see right now with personal protective equipment, but the fear is that the ripple effects will make shortages in those medicines as well,” Molinaro said, speaking at a Geneva news conference.

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The Food and Drug Administration in the United States said it was working to determine how the restrictions will affect U.S. supplies.

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