China's state-run Sichuan Airlines has suspended all its cargo flights to India for 15 days, causing major disruption to private traders' efforts to procure the much-needed oxygen concentrators and other medical supplies from China despite Beijing offering "support and assistance" to the country to deal with the latest surge of COVID-19 cases.
In a letter to the sales agents on Monday, the Sichuan Chuanhang Logistics Co. Ltd, the company which is part of the Sichuan Airlines said the airline has suspended its cargo flights on six routes, including Xian to Delhi, amid hectic efforts by private traders from both sides to procure oxygen concentrators from China.
In the letter seen by PTI, the company said "in the face of sudden changes in the epidemic situation (in India), in order to reduce the number of imported cases, it is decided" to suspend the flights for the next 15 days.
"Indian route has always been the core strategic route for Sichuan Airlines. This suspension has also caused great losses to our company. We are very sorry for the unchanged situation", the letter said and sought the "understanding of its sales agents", it said. The letter also said the company will review the situation after 15 days.
The suspension of cargo flights came as a surprise to agents and freight forwarders who are frantically trying to procure the oxygen concentrators from China.
There are also complaints of Chinese manufacturers jacking up the prices by 35 to 40 per cent. The freight charges have been increased to over 20 per cent, Siddharth Sinha of Sino Global Logistics, a Shanghai-based freight forwarding company.
He told PTI here that the Sichuan Airlines decision to cancel flights has caused severe disruption to attempts by private traders in both the countries to secure quick supplies of the Oxygen concentrators to rush to India in view of the dire situation.
Now it becomes very challenging to rush the supplies as they have to be rerouted through Singapore and other countries through different airlines, which delays the much-needed supplies, he said.
The suspension of the flights owing to the coronavirus situation in India is surprising as there is no crew change in India and the same crew flies the aircraft back, he said.
India is struggling with a second wave of the pandemic with more than 3,00,000 daily new coronavirus cases being reported in the past few days, and hospitals in several states are reeling under a shortage of medical oxygen and beds.
The Chinese cargo flights besides the shipping services have been operational throughout the pandemic rushing supplies of lucrative mobile phone equipment as well as a lot of other Chinese exports to India.
Sinha also said the Chinese suppliers also resorted to "inhuman" practice of heavy jacking up of prices to cash in on the pandemic emergency.
The suspension of flights also came as a surprise to the Indian officials as it came in the backdrop of official statements offering support and assistance to India.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian told a media briefing on April 23 that China is in communication with India to provide necessary support and assistance.
"China expresses sincere sympathies to India over the deteriorating situation in the country recently," he said.
"The Chinese government and people firmly support the Indian government and people in fighting the coronavirus. China is ready to provide support and help according to India's need, and is in communication with the Indian side on this", he said.
"We believe that the Indian people will defeat the virus at an early date", he said.
India's total tally of COVID-19 cases has climbed to 1,73,13,163 while active cases have crossed the 28-lakh mark. The number of deaths increased to 1,95,123 with a record 2,812 new fatalities, according to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Monday.