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Bricks and mortar chemists take down Indian contact-tracing website

On grounds that it favoured online chemists in a nation that forbids online drug sales

The Indian government has suspend the sales of medicine through the companion website of its COVID-19 tracing app in response to a petition signed by 850,000 bricks-and-mortar chemists.

The Aarogya Setu Mitr portal, which is linked to the government's COVID-19 tracing app, Aarogya Setu, provides Indians sheltering at home with the ability to book tele-health consultations, order at-home test sample collection, or acquire goods from popular online pharmacies.

The app is a public-private partnership between the government’s Principal Scientific Advisor and the NITI Aayog, a state-run think tank, as well as "voluntary participation" from private organisations.

But the preference for online pharmacies earned the ire of bricks-and-mortar retailers, who last month petitioned the High Court of Delhi by the South Chemists and Distributions Association which called for the portal to be delinked from the Aarogya Setu app. The group argued that linking the contact-tracing app promoted online medicine sales in a "highly illegal, arbitrary, and discriminatory manner".

Indian law prohibits online medicine sales under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940. The provision has been temporarily lifted since late March to enable Indians sheltering at home to access essential medicines. Certain restrictions, such as the selling of highly addictive drugs, have been implemented.

The Association approached the court last month requesting that the name "Aarogya Setu" not be used in affiliation with the website and calling for its immediate closure. It argued that the website portal acted as a marketing tool for online pharmacies and did not mention brick and mortar pharmacies.

In response to the petition, the Additional Solicitor General Maninder Acharya agreed to suspend the service and "keep in mind the issues raised by the petitioners". The Aarogya Setu Mitr portal is currently down and displaying a 404 error and at the time of writing India's goverment has made no statement on its possible restoration. ®

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