Coronavirus, India and Medical Consumables

COVID-19. That’s the code name. The coronavirus has raked its ugly claws on at least 48 countries as of February 27, 2020 with damaging consequences, according to the New York Times article of that day.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia temporarily halted religious visits which draw millions of people a year. The neighbouring countries of Kuwait, Bahrain, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates flagged dozens of cases. Iran has the maximum cases out of all of these.

East of the world, Japan has closed its schools for at least a month. The Olympics are in danger of cancellation, with athletes and sponsors citing ever-increasing concerns over the location, which is so close to China. Singapore recently held a closed sporting event, with zero fan attendance. Hong Kong is on red alert. Outside of China. South Korea faces the largest outbreak in the entire world currently.


Australia has launched an emergency response programme, and doctors have warned that the public health system could be overwhelmed in case of a pandemic.                              

Cases have propped up in Italy, United States, Spain. Nigeria confirmed its first case. WHO chief TedrosAdhanomGhebreyesus opined that it could ‘’get out of control’’ fast.

Global markets are plummeting. Bent crude oil is poised to dip below $50 for the first time in four years. It seems like an awaiting pandemonium. But then again, we would have to consider the worst-case scenarios for everything. And hope is the bread of the poor, as the proverb goes.


China is hobbling on one leg.

Thousands dead, hundreds of thousands at risk. The origin of the devil has suffered the most.

Docks are clogged with arriving shipping containers. Warehouses overflow with goods that cannot be exported for lack of trucks. Factories sit idle because components are not reaching them. The ripple effects of this slowdown are felt globally.

Ghost town in China.

Additionally, China’s containment efforts are only contributing to the disruptions. Social life has stopped in affected areas. The Chinese economy might be in shambles if these restrictions are not loosened soon, their business leaders opine. Strike a balance, they say. But the government disagrees.


Much needed medical consumables are being negotiated and procured from around the world. India has been at the forefront, and one of the first countries China approached to for help, since the inception of the coronavirus, to help China fulfill its procurement obligations. With medical consumables representing a major segment of the healthcare industry in India coupled steady growth projections and manufacturing capabilities, India is one of the fastest growing medical supplies market in the world, and thus an ideal hub from which to satiate the exponential demand.


Readers with medical background, skip this part. Here is what the term ‘medical consumables’ encompasses:

Medical consumables comprise heterogeneous objects and materials.Needles, syringes, sutures, staples, tubing, packaging, catheters, gowns, surgical gloves, masks, adhesives and sealants for wound dressing and a variety of other devices and tools used in a hospital or surgical environment and sanitary and hygiene products used for patient care all make the list of medical consumables.

Many of the conventional consumables have transformed to upgraded versions with value addition in terms of quality, durability, user-friendly status, safety or other attributes.Disposable syringes, absorbable sutures, disposable gloves, many surgical items, etc. are some of the examples of such consumable items.


The first major Indian consignment consisted mainly of Hazmat suits, N95 masks (called so because they filter out at least 95 percent of very small articles, including bacteria and virus) and safety goggles. China required crores of units every day, for their researchers, patients, staff dealing with the patients which includes every level of the hierarchy, from the ward boy to the Dean; the families of the suspects or the patients, and people who have to venture outside for their needs.

Basically, everyone.

The first consignment from India reached safely, and was sold inside China within days. Queues for masks were serpentine.

However, two problems arose in the coming days: The rise of duplicate products being exported to China, and 3 Indians suspected of carrying the virus to Kerala while returning from China.

The Chinese government soon found out that the imports contained low-quality products manufactured by opportune deceivers in the name of reputed companies like Honeywell, which was readily accepted by the Chinese in their haste to cover the demand-supply gap.Chinese officials smelled this soon enough, and stopped the second consignment from unloading. Some even reverted with nasty emails to the original manufacturer under whose name the essentials were sold.

India, on the other hand, woke up to the startling reality that it could be a victim of this epidemic too. In its bid to roll cash and satiate China’s demand, it might leave its own demand fulfillment hanging.The Indian government, in lieu of this, decided to halt all exports for the time being, with the exception of 2-ply and 3-ply masks.*

The rise in the demand of medical consumables is being driven by the most unexpected circumstance today. India is in the eye of the storm, and has crucial decisions to make. How India stands with China in these trying circumstances may determine its future relationship with China. It also has to balance its own interest against that of its neighbours, but the cost of not containing the virus within China would be devastating upon the world as a whole.

As of 27th Feb, 2020


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