Beijing: 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 the country despite Beijing reiterating its readiness to help India to deal with the latest surge of COVID-19 cases.
“China has been following closely the epidemic situation in India. We show our sincerest sympathies to the worsening situation in India,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a media briefing here on Monday while answering several questions, including the suspension of cargo flights by the Sichuan Airlines. “We have stated that we are ready to help India fight the virus in the first opportunity available. Two sides are in communication regarding this,” he said.
He, however, did not confirm a tweet by the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka stating that China began to supply oxygen concentrators to India.
“800 Oxygen Concentrators have been airlifted today from #HongKong to #Delhi; 10,000 more in a week. #China is keeping in touch with #India for urgent needs,” said a tweet put out by the Chinese Embassy in Colombo.
Asked for his reaction to the tweet, Wang said, “China is willing to provide necessary support and help to India in its fight against the virus. If India raises specific demands, we will provide help and support to the best of our capability”.
About Chinese manufacturers hiking prices of the medical supplies to India, he said that on “India’s readiness to buy medical supplies from China, I understand this is a commercial activity. If India raises specific demands, China is ready to provide help and support to the best of capability.”
To a question that members of the Quad or Quadrilateral alliance consisting of the US, India, Australia and Japan not rushing help to India, Wang said, “on this issue, countries should work together”.
“We have to fight the virus together. We hope that all countries should unite as one, to defeat the virus, which is a common enemy for mankind,” he said.
Wang has declined to react to China’s state-run airline, Sichuan Airlines, decision to suspend its cargo flights to several destinations to India which was expected to seriously cause disruptions to private traders’ efforts to procure oxygen concentrators badly needed in India.
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 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, said 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.
There are also virtually no Indians travelling to China from India other than diplomats as China has suspended visas for Indians since November and flights remained banned.
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 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 cargo flights also came as a surprise to the Indian officials here as it came in the backdrop of official statements offering support and assistance to India.
Another Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian last week said that China is in communication with India to provide necessary support and assistance.
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 death toll increased to 1,95,123 with a record 2,812 new fatalities, according to official data.