Coronavirus: Chinese firms see surge in demand from India for medical oxygen devices

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Chinese companies have seen a spike in demand from India for medical oxygen equipment after Beijing pledged to mobilise support for the country as it struggles with a worsening Covid-19 crisis.

China is the world’s biggest manufacturer of oxygen concentrators, and some factories say the demand has led to a shortage of the components needed to make them, pushing up prices.

Beijing has said it is highly concerned about the situation in India, where a second wave of the pandemic has seen record daily infections and an acute shortage of medical supplies and hospital beds. In the last 24 hours, the country recorded 366,161 new cases and 3,754 related deaths, and there is mounting pressure for a nationwide lockdown.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping on April 30 said China was ready to strengthen cooperation with India to fight the pandemic and provide support.

On Sunday, Chinese ambassador to India Sun Weidong said the first shipment of medical supplies donated by the Red Cross Society of China had arrived in the country. It included 100 oxygen concentrators and 40 ventilators, and Sun said the organisation would also provide US$1 million to the Indian Red Cross Society.

But Beijing has so far mostly encouraged private Chinese companies to help meet India’s urgent demand for medical equipment.

As of May 5, Chinese manufacturers had received orders from India for more than 60,000 oxygen concentrators, according to Indian media reports citing the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Medicines and Health Products.

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Global Sources, a business-to-business sourcing platform with a majority of medical suppliers in mainland China, said there had been a sixfold increase in requests from India for medical supplies between the second and third weeks of April, as the crisis worsened.

The products most in demand were related to medical oxygen, with an increase in inquiries also seen for protective gear, according to the Hong Kong-based company.

“We understand this is a really serious situation. Our buyers are reaching out to us for help and we immediately took action, using our expertise – connecting buyers and suppliers worldwide,” a company spokeswoman said.

The huge demand from India has led to a shortage of the parts needed to make the oxygen concentrators, resulting in higher prices, and that has had an impact on domestic sales, according to one manufacturer.

“We supply China’s domestic market rather than exporting, but the surge in demand from India has seriously affected companies like us – materials to make oxygen concentrators are in short supply because they’ve almost been completely bought up by exporters,” a spokesman for Jinan Bona in Shandong said.

Baoding Med-Joy Medical in Hebei province, which exports oxygen concentrators, said it had seen a tenfold rise in orders from India, and most of its orders for the next five months were from the country.

But a company spokeswoman said given the high cost of components, it was taking a more cautious approach. “In the past we haven’t asked for full payment before delivery, but now we do,” she said. “We can’t afford such a huge risk [of payment default].”

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