EU Braces for Drug Shortage, Eyeing Chinese Supply

(CN) — Wary of the global coronavirus outbreak disrupting the pharmaceutical supply chain, the European Union’s medical agency reminded drugmakers Tuesday about their duty to keep adequate stock on hand.

“Industry associations have indicated that no specific disruptions have yet been identified and that any impact in the short-term would be limited, given the current stocks in place,” the European Medicines Agency said in a statement. “However, supply issues can be expected if lockdowns continue and/or other supply disruptions occur e.g. caused by logistical problems or export restrictions.”

Among a largely Asian group, China is the leading supplier of molecules that Europe uses to makes most drugs. Since the emergence of the novel coronavirus there in December 2019, factory closures and quarantines on tens of millions of people across China have devastated a wide range of export-reliant industries.

French lab scientists in hazmat gear work at Pasteur Institute in Paris on Feb. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

European health authorities are not seeing a shortfall yet, but that may not last.

“As the public health emergency develops, shortages or disruptions cannot be excluded,” the European Medicines Agency said Tuesday.

The agency is one of multiple authorities participating in the EU’s first-ever meeting of an executive steering group on “medicine shortages caused by major events.”

In case of “a temporary lockdown of manufacturing sites in areas affected by COVID-19 or travel restrictions impacting shipment,” the agency said consumers can take heart in the group coordinating an EU-wide response.

Vaccines, antibiotics and nervous-system treatments are reportedly among those at risk of shortfalls in France.

Aviation Industry Impacts

In Brussels, meanwhile, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issued a plan Tuesday for airlines that have seen an abrupt drop-off in passenger numbers as the coronavirus spreads.
“We see that the situation is deteriorating on a daily basis and traffic is expected to decline further,” von der Leyen said in a statement broadcast from commission headquarters. “This is why the commission will put forward very rapidly legislation regarding the so-called airport slots.”

While reserved take-off and landing authorizations known as slots are allocated by airports to each airline, slots can be forfeited if the airline fails to operate scheduled flights. In virus-hit Europe, this has led to many airlines flying empty “ghost flights” to safeguard their slots.

Von der Leyen noted that ending ghost flights has the added benefit of also decreasing emissions.

Any legislation would have to go before the European Parliament and then need approval from the 27 member states that make up the European Council.

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