The government on Saturday exempted basic customs duty on import of COVID-19 vaccine, medical-grade oxygen and related equipment to boost domestic availability and make them cheaper amid rising infections across the country.
The decision to exempt customs duty was taken at a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to boost oxygen availability in the country.
"In order to augment their production and availability and to meet the rising demand, it was decided to grant full exemption from Basic Customs Duty and health cess on import of the following items related to oxygen and oxygen related equipment for a period of three months with immediate effect," an official statement said.
It was also decided that basic customs duty on import of COVID vaccines be also exempted with immediate effect for a period of three months, it added.
The 16 oxygen and related equipment on which duty has been waived include oxygen concentrator along with flow meter, regulator, connectors and tubing, oxygen canister, filling systems, storage tanks, cylinders, including cryogenic cylinders and tank.
Ventilators (capable of functioning as high-flow devices) with nasal canula; helmets for use with non-invasive ventilation, non-invasive ventilation oronasal and nasal masks for ICU ventilators too have been exempted from the import duty and health cess.
"This will boost the availability of these items as well as make them cheaper. The PM directed the Revenue Department to ensure seamless and quick customs clearance of such equipment," the statement said.
The government presently levies 10 per cent customs or import duty on vaccines coming from overseas.
The exemption from import duty would help keep low the cost of overseas vaccines that are being eyed to supplement domestically made shots ahead of opening COVID-19 vaccination to all citizens over 18 years of age.
Import duty would have made the imported vaccines costlier than the ones made by Serum Institute of India (SII) and Bharat Biotech.
While Russia's Sputnik V vaccines are due to arrive this month or by next month, manufacturers like Moderna and Johnson and Johnson have been urged to seek emergency use approval in India.
Earlier, the government waived import duty on Remdesivir injection, and also banned its export.
The government earlier this month allowed the emergency use of imported vaccines to curb the spread of coronavirus infections.
With over 3.46 lakh daily new infections, the caseload has crossed 1.66 crore. India's deaths from COVID-19 rose by a record 2,624 to over 1.89 lakh.
The government has taken a lot of measures in the last few days to improve oxygen and medical supplies.
IAF planes are bringing in cryogenic oxygen tanks from Singapore. It is also transporting oxygen tanks in the country to reduce travel time.
Similarly, in a major decision yesterday, free food grains will be given to 80 crore Indians in May and June 2021.
"The PM emphasised that there was an immediate need to augment the supply of medical grade oxygen as well as equipment required for patient care both at home and in hospitals. PM stressed that all ministries and departments need to work in synergy to increase the availability of oxygen and medical supplies," the statement said.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan and other key officials attended the meeting.