Coronavirus: China vows to help Spain amid questions over EU support for its worst-hit countries

Stuart Lau

China has widened its coronavirus diplomacy in Europe, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi pledging medical support for Spain, which begins a national lockdown on Monday.

Italy, the outbreak’s worst-hit country after China, also said on Sunday it would receive from China 5 million masks, 150 ventilators and two extra medical teams.

Chinese medical assistance for Europe’s two most severely affected nations came as Italy accused European Union members of failing to send the equipment needed.

China’s actions also coincided with the United States’ tensions with Europe. The White House has issued a travel ban for the whole of Europe, while it is also, according to the German ministry of health, trying to acquire a German pharmaceutical company specialising in Covid-19 vaccine developments.

Italy, which is also under a national lockdown, reported 368 new deaths on Sunday – a higher toll than the worst day recorded in China. Its number of confirmed cases rose to 24,747 from 21,157 on Saturday. In Spain, the fatalities more than doubled overnight – from 136 on Saturday to 288.

Wang made his pledges to Spain in a telephone call with Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya hours before Spain entered a national lockdown.

“The number of infected cases has grown fast in Spain,” Wang reportedly told Gonzalez. “As we are consolidating the achievements of battling the disease in [China], we are also willing to provide necessary support based on the needs of other countries.”

China had already “urgently offered a batch of medical supplies as assistance based on Spain’s needs”, Wang said.

Spain could also import personal protection gear and medical equipment through commercial channels, he added.

China would consider sending medical teams to help Spain, Wang said. One was already in operation in Italy.

On Twitter, Gonzalez made no mention of China’s urgent assistance, but said she talked to Wang about “streamlining trade” between the two countries.

Coronavirus forces Europe to confront China dependency

“China is an important provider of medical supplies and thousands of [Spanish] SMEs depend on exports to China,” Gonzalez said.

The medical equipment Italy received from China was via a commercial contract, according to Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.

He said in a Facebook Live session that Italy had been “crying for help regarding lung ventilators and masks”. Two new medical teams were leaving China to go to Italy, he said.

Italy’s mortality-to-population rate is 10 times higher than that of China, according to the World Health Organisation.

The health system in Italy has been described by local doctors as “on the brink of collapse”, according to Italian media, with intensive care wards almost full, especially in the worst-hit regions in the country’s north.

European borders likely to remain open despite crisis in Italy

Italy has complained about the European Union failing to act on its call for help when it was running out of medical equipment.

“We asked for supplies of medical equipment, and the European Commission forwarded the appeal to the member states,” Italy’s permanent representative to the EU, Maurizio Massari, said last week. “But it didn’t work.”

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