German Chancellor Angela Merkel has downplayed concerns over China’s provision of medical supplies to European countries hit hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic, calling the move a gesture of reciprocity.
The European Union continued to face criticism over its slow reaction to calls for medical supplies from Italy and Spain, amid the encouraging news that new cases in Italy were seeing their slowest rate of increase since the contagion came to light in late February.
“The European Union sent medical equipment to China [when] China asked for help at that time,” Merkel said at a Tuesday press conference, referring to the outbreak’s start earlier this year. “What we are seeing here is reciprocity.”
“As we are having a crisis at this time, we cannot expect everything to be provided in the framework of the EU. We are very pleased about [China’s provision],” Merkel said.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has guaranteed that China will provide Italy and Spain – the two most severely hit European countries – with medical equipment such as face masks, ventilators and protective equipment for medical professionals.
Critics, however, called China’s action part of a propaganda campaign designed to deflect US claims that the coronavirus originated in China.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez reached out to Xi for help obtaining medical supplies in a phone call on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters, Sanchez confirmed that the matter had come up during the call, just days after the Spanish government had ordered an unprecedented national lockdown to halt the virus’ spread.
Chinese state media reported that Xi had told Sanchez that “China is willing to respond to the urgent needs of Spain and spare no effort to provide support and assistance, and share experience in prevention, control and treatment.”
On Tuesday, a plane from Shanghai landed in the northern Spanish city of Zaragoza, carrying 500,000 masks donated by e-commerce giant Alibaba, AFP reported. (Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.)
According to a statement, the delivery was part of a donation of 2 million masks and coronavirus test kits to certain countries from Alibaba’s Chinese billionaire founder Jack Ma.
Xi’s call with Sanchez came a day after one with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, in which the Chinese leader similarly pledged to provide Italy with medical support, including teams with expertise in treating Covid-19.
On Tuesday, Italy reported 345 new coronavirus deaths in 24 hours, taking its overall death toll to 2,503.
Spain registered 183 deaths, 53 per cent more than in the previous 24 hours, driving the total number of deaths to 524. More than 2,000 newly infected cases were reported, pushing the total to 11,681.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, France entered a national shutdown, while Belgium, where the EU is headquartered, announced a similar halt to public activities starting on Wednesday.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said all 27 member states have agreed to ban non-EU citizens from visiting the region for the next 30 days. The method of enforcement will be determined by the individual countries, she said.
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