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Govt readying vaccine cold storage at airports

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The central government has started preparations for setting up a cold storage chain for the Covid-19 vaccine that will eventually be approved for use in India, and is finalising transport arrangements with top airlines to deliver the antidote to the viral disease, officials aware of the development said.

The aviation ministry has held a round of meetings with airlines on transport logistics. Officials involved in the process told HT that the ministry was awaiting the Centre’s approval for a vaccine candidate; arrangements for its transport have been made.

“We are absolutely ready. We will come out with the specifics soon. We have enough capacity in terms of aircraft. The Prime Minister has also taken a meeting on Friday. We have to first prioritise according to the vaccine that will be chosen—whether it will be from Pune or the South… cold storage will have to come up accordingly. We have enough capacity in terms of aircraft to take them around the country and if need be to take them to other countries or get them from outside as well,” a senior government official said, requesting anonymity.

“More than cold storage inside the aircraft, the challenge is to set up cold storage at the point of disembarkation and embarkation at the airport, setting up the whole cold-storage chain. That’s a separate exercise going on…We have started work and it is at a fairly advanced stage. It is only a matter of weeks before the vaccine is finalised,” the official added.

Aviation sector experts were concerned about the availability of freighters required to carry out the task of distributing the vaccine once a candidate is selected.

“It is going to be an absolute herculean task to transport the vaccine to billions of people across the world and in India it is not going to be easy at all. In terms of aircraft capacity to be able to transport and distribute it to districts, sub-districts, villages and even the remotest corners of the country will take years. According to our analysis, to cater to 1.3 billion people of India will need at least 2,000 Boeing 747 freighters, 3,000 Airbus A320s, 1,000 ATR 42s and additionally at least 400 Twin Otters or the Grand Caravan aircraft. It will be a ridiculously difficult task given our current capacity. To be able to distribute it across the world it will require at least 15,000 freighters, “said Mark Martin, chief executive of Martin Consulting LLC, an aviation consultancy.

In a statement on Wednesday SpiceJet announced it will offer logistical support for the delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine. The airline’s dedicated cargo arm, SpiceXpress, will use a specialised service called Spice Pharma Pro, and the company has the capacity to transport drugs and vaccines in temperatures ranging from -40°c to +25°c.

“Air India, as always, is willing and would be playing a major role like what it has been doing ever since it flew into Wuhan in January this year to evacuate the stranded…As far as our preparedness is concerned, Air India is always prepared to answer the call of our nation,” an Air India spokesperson said.

IndiGo said they are evaluating how they can chip in. “In line with our business model and cost leadership strategy, we are happy to evaluate the shipment of the Covid-19 vaccines on board our aircraft and will promise to contribute to the best of our abilities,” the airline said.

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