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Covid-19 has led to a surge in Chinese exports of oxygen concentrators

A man with a breathing problem receives oxygen support for free at a Gurudwara, in Ghaziabad
REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
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Before the pandemic, China’s output of oxygen concentrators was increasing steadily, growing from around 200,000 in 2014 to around 1.5 million in 2019 to meet rising domestic demand. Then came the coronavirus.

China’s control of the virus means it has little need for additional supplies of concentrators, which filter oxygen from the air and can help patients who have difficulty breathing improve their oxygen saturation levels. Instead, China’s seeing exports “rise sharply,” according to Chinese consultancy Qianzhan Industry Institute in a report published this month, as the coronavirus continues to ravage the lives of millions, most visibly neighbor India.

China’s exports of the medical device mounted to 364,200 units last year, compared with just under 50,000 units in 2019. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, the exports reached 265,800, according to Qianzhan.

Although there is no official breakdown of exports by country for this year yet, India is likely a driving factor behind the first quarter’s surge.

In 2020, the US imported the most oxygen concentrators from China followed by India, said Qianzhan, or 48,100 concentrators and 22,400, respectively.

In a sign of how devastating India’s second wave of Covid-19 has been, according to Chinese state media Xinhua, China provided 21,569 concentrators to India between just April to May 5. Chinese companies have also been “accelerating” their production of another 40,000 concentrators, said Xinhua.

Going forward, the demand for concentrators from China seems set to continue. One Chinese concentrator exporter told the South China Morning Post that India accounts for the bulk of its orders for the next five months.

India is still struggling with the pandemic, and countries including Singapore are seeing a resurgence of cases. It’s another example of the difficulty for the US, or the world in general, to “decouple” from or “boycott” China, given its increasingly important position in the supply chain of everything from oxygen machines to Covid-19 vaccines.

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