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India’s Covid-19 catastrophe could hurt global supplies of medicines, clothing and

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has so far resisted calls to impose another total lockdown on the country, even as many regions have announced their own heavy restrictions. But several global industries that rely on India are looking on anxiously. Should the crisis deepen, everything from clothing and pharmaceuticals to financial services and global shipping could feel the pain.

More than 200,000 of an estimated 1.7 million seafarers globally are from India, according to Guy Platten, the Secretary General at the International Chamber of Shipping. Many of them have officer ranks and roles requiring important skills, he added.

“We hope to goodness” this situation can be resolved, Platten told CNN Business. Otherwise it could lead to big “shortage of seafarers,” which would “disrupt the global supply chain,” he added.

As many countries have banned flights from India, it is already impossible to move Indian workers to ports around the world, and swap crews.

René Piil Pedersen, head of Marine Relations at Maersk, the world’s largest container shipping company, hopes that countries start distinguishing between regular travelers and seafarers. Otherwise, he said, the world could face both a serious threat to global cargo flows, and a “humanitarian crisis,” because crews would not be able to leave their vessels and return home.
A new threat to global trade: Exhausted crews want off cargo ships now

“It will take a heavy toll on their mental welfare,” said Pedersen, whose company employs 30% of its seafarers from India.

The pandemic threw global shipping into chaos last year, with nearly 200,000 seafarers stranded for months due to port closures and grounded airplanes. Some workers had started calling their vessels “floating prisons” — and Pedersen fears a return to that scenario if India’s Covid-19 crisis continues unabated.

There are also significant delays in the movements of vessels.

Some places, such as the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Hong Kong and mainland China, “have already imposed strict quarantine restrictions for vessels arriving from Indian ports,” said Sankar Narayanan, manager for shipping at shipping and logistics company GAC India.

Experts say vaccinating seafarers could be a solution, but that may prove to be hard to execute.

Vaccines and other pharmaceuticals

The world’s vaccination drive is already suffering because of the outbreak in India, which typically produces more than 60% of all vaccines sold globally. The country is home to the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker. Its vast manufacturing capability is why the country signed on as a major player in COVAX, the global initiative that provides discounted or free doses of the Covid-19 vaccine for lower-income countries.
SII agreed last year to manufacture up to 200 million Covid vaccine doses for up to 92 countries. But, with only 2% of India’s population fully vaccinated, the government and SII have shifted focus from supplying vaccines to other countries, and are now prioritizing Indian citizens.

The bad news doesn’t end there. Apart from the Covid vaccine shortage, there could be other consequences for the worldwide pharmaceutical industry if the spread of the infection in India is not controlled soon.

The latest on Covid-19 and India's worsening crisis
India is the world’s largest supplier of generic drugs — copies of brand-name pharmaceuticals that have the same effects but cost less. In the United States, 90% of all prescriptions are filled by generic drugs and one in every three pills consumed is produced by an Indian generics manufacturer, according to an April 2020 study by the Confederation of Indian Industry and KPMG.

But Indian drug makers get as much as 70% of their raw materials from China, a link in the supply chain that looks vulnerable given the coronavirus surge. At the end of April, China’s Sichuan Airlines suspended cargo flights to India for 15 days. That prompted India’s top pharmaceutical export group to write to India’s ambassador in Beijing, urging him to intervene.

In the letter, Ravi Udaya Bhaskar, director general of the…

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