Drug shortages likely from India, China as coronavirus spreads

The global spread of the coronavirus has started to affect the supply of antibiotics and vitamins out of India and China.

While a few factories in India have started producing products again, shortages of some drugs could develop, experts warn.

On Tuesday, authorities in India ordered the country's pharmaceutical industry to stop exporting 26 drugs and ingredients used in antibiotics without explicit permission from the government. The moves made in India will undoubtedly have an effect on the rest of the world, which relies on the Asian nation's drug makers for much of its supply of generic drugs.

According to the India Brand Equity Foundation, India exported about $19 billion in drugs in 2019, accounting for about one-fifth of the world's exports of generics by volume.

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One Indian official, who spoke to The New York Times on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the government wanted to make sure the country had an adequate supply of medicine for Indians before beginning to export them to the rest of the world.

In China, ground zero of the disease, U.S. officials are monitoring more than 20 drugs, whose manufacturers rely only on China for finished products or active pharmaceutical ingredients.

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As the virus spreads across the world, some nations such as Saudi Arabia, Italy and Iran are taking drastic measures to curb the coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia, for example, has banned citizens from performing the Muslim pilgrimage in Mecca. In Italy, officials are weighing closing schools nationwide, while in Iran prayers were canceled for a second week.

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The number of deaths spiked in Iran and Italy, which along with South Korea account for 80 percent of the new virus cases outside China, according to the World Health Organization. In all, more than 94,000 people have contracted the virus worldwide, with more than 3,200 deaths.

"People are afraid and uncertain," WHO Leader Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. "But as we get more data, we are understanding this virus and the disease it causes more and more."

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WHO said about 3.4 percent of people infected with the COVID-19 virus globally have died, making it more fatal than the common flu. The new figure came as a surprise, since a study last week in the New England Journal of Medicine assessing data from more than 30 Chinese provinces estimated the death rate was 1.4 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.