The second wave of the pandemic has brought a change to the way India’s customs department has been clearing Chinese medical equipment, especially devices used in the treatment and monitoring of Covid-19 patients.

Equipment such as oxygen concentrators, oximeters, ventilators, PPE kits and thermometers are being cleared on a priority and emergency basis, importers said. But non-medical devices coming from China continue to face delayed clearances, as has been the case since last year following the border tensions with China.

“Indian customs is working at a never-seen-before speed to clear all Covid-related medical equipment imported from China. The sense of urgency is clearly visible,” said Sanjay Kalirona, chief executive at Gizmore. The company’s consignment of oxygen concentrators and oximeters was cleared in an hour by the customs at the Delhi airport on Sunday.

Importers said most Chinese suppliers of Covid-related medical equipment have increased prices due to the sudden surge in demand from India, though they have also increased production.

Companies like BPL, Intex and Gizmore that have placed orders said Chinese manufacturers of oxygen concentrators have increased prices by 10-15% if Indian companies want immediate supplies.

Intex director Keshav Bansal said there is a price hike due to sudden increase in demand from India. “We believe the suppliers are trying to cope up with this surge in demand,” he said.

China is the world’s largest producer and India’s biggest sourcing nation for medical equipment including the Covid-related ones.

Meanwhile, some disruptions are expected in imports of critical devices like oxygen concentrators after Chinese airline Sichuan suspended its cargo flights to India because of the surge in Covid cases here. This, importers said, may also increase prices since the cargo will be re-routed through other cities.

But the supply disruptions are likely to be minimal since most of the supplies are from factories located in Shenzhen which largely transit through Hong Kong where flights are fully operational.

The government on Monday announced the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs has set up a dedicated helpdesk to handle queries over Covid-related imports including oxygen machines, and handhold the trade for expeditious custom clearances.

The board posted multiple tweets about emergency clearances of oxygen concentrators, ventilators, oximeters and thermometers, by the customs at airports in New Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai.

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