- US warned India of "retaliation" if it didn't export hydroxychloroquine
- Soon after, PM Modi announced its export on "humanitarian grounds"
- India manufactures around 70% of the world's hydroxychloroquine
Hours after warning India of "retaliation" if it did not agree to export hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug believed effective in treatment of the novel coronavirus, US President Donald Trump called Prime Minister Narendra Modi "great" and "really good".
The change in tone came after Mr Trump confirmed that the first shipment of a total of 29 million doses of the drug was on its way from three factories in Gujarat to the United States, reports news agency PTI. US has reported four lakh coronavirus cases and 13,000 deaths.
"I bought millions of doses... more than 29 million. I spoke to Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi, a lot of it comes out of India. I asked him if he would release it. He was great. He was really good," Donald Trump told American channel Fox News.
Earlier on Monday, during a press briefing at the White House, Mr Trump said he would be "surprised if he (Prime Minister Modi) would" stand firm over his ban on the export of the drug.
"I didn't hear it was his decision. I know that he stopped it for other countries (but) I spoke to him yesterday and we had a very good talk... I said we'd appreciate you allowing our supply to come out. If he doesn't allow it to come... there may be retaliation," Mr Trump said, referring to his Sunday phone call with PM Modi.
Mr Trump's bulk purchase of the drug, which he called a "game-changer", is in anticipation of it being declared a viable treatment option; it is currently being tested on patients in New York.
India manufactures around 70 per cent (approximately 20 crore tablets of 200 mg each) of the world's hydroxychloroquine supply. The medicine has been identified by the United States' Food and Drug Administration as a possible treatment for COVID-19 cases.
Last month the ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research, the government's nodal body in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak) recommended its use for healthcare workers attending to patients.
Subsequently, on March 25 the government announced a hold on export, adding it would only be allowed on a "case-to-case basis".
On Tuesday, the government said India would allow export "in view of the humanitarian aspects of the pandemic".
The decision was met with criticism from opposition parties like the Congress, which cautioned the government to prioritise the needs of Indians first.
"Friendship isn't about retaliation. India must help all nations in their hour of need but lifesaving medicines should be made available to Indians in ample quantities first," Rahul Gandhi tweeted.
Across India over 4,699 active novel coronavirus cases have been reported and at least 149 deaths have been linked to the virus.
Meanwhile, similar requests have been received from other countries, including immediate neighbours Sri Lanka (185 cases, six deaths) and Nepal (nine cases). The government is believed to be reviewing its export ban order, which was placed to ensure domestic requirements are met.
Worldwide the COVID-19 virus has infected 1.4 million people and killed more than 82,000.
With input from PTI