Anticipating larger volumes of Covid-19 vaccine imports and exports in the coming months, Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) has put in place a COVID Response Plan (CRP) for speedy clearances of COVID-19 vaccines at all major airports.
The plan calls for a COVID-19 Vaccine Response Team (CVRT) at each Air Cargo/Courier Terminal. The CVRT will function as a single point of contact for all clearance related to COVID-19 vaccine shipments. It will coordinate among concerned stakeholders to ensure that vaccines are given instant delivery upon arrival. A standard operating procedure to implement instant delivery mechanism is being prepared.
The changes are happening at a time when India is negotiating with companies like Pfizer and Moderna to supply their new generation mRNA vaccines for Covid-19 to augment local supplies. Several Indian manufacturers are building capacities for high volume vaccine exports too. Unlike the conventional vaccines, mRNA vaccines are highly temperature sensitive and require specialised cold chain facilities.
CBIC states that the agency has enabled import/export of vaccines in relation to COVID-19 through courier by issuing the Courier Imports and Exports (Electronic Declaration and Processing) Amendment Regulations, 2020.
"The Courier Regulations earlier had certain limits on the value of goods that could be brought in through courier, whereas the amended regulations allow the import and export of COVID vaccines through courier without any value limit. As the vaccines would be transported through special containers equipped with temperature monitoring and tracking devices, provision has also been made for their duty-free temporary admission", the statement said.
The CRP has identified logistic processes, regulatory processes, capacity building of staff, assessment of existing handling capacities, limitations of work hours and non-synchronised timings of various departments as key areas of focus. As part of speeding up the clearance process, CBIC has shifted the processes that are ordinarily done post the arrival of the imported goods to stages either before their arrival or post their Customs clearance (after the importer has already taken delivery of the goods).
The CRP also notes that existing cold chain storage facilities at Air Cargo Complexes (ACC) may not be equipped to handle the volumes envisaged from import/export or the intense temperature control requirements required for the vaccine. It calls for evaluation of the adequacy of infrastructure, keeping in mind the pharmacological properties of different vaccines likely to be imported/exported.
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