March 18, 2020 / 6:30 PM / 16 days ago

As coronavirus moves west, China offers medical kit to Europe

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - China will send 2.2 million masks and 50,000 testing kits to the EU to cope with the spread of coronavirus, reciprocating similar assistance Europe provided Beijing when it was at the centre of the pandemic, the bloc’s chief executive said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presents the EU executive's economic response to the coronavirus epidemic, in Brussels, Belgium March 13, 2020. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

The support from China is timely as the European Union has been unable to source face masks and protective goggles in a joint procurement effort launched earlier this month.

“China has not forgotten that in January when China was the centre of the virus outbreak the European Union helped,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a video message on Twitter, recalling that the EU donated 50 tonnes of protective equipment that month.

“Today we are the centre of the coronavirus pandemic and we need protective equipment ourselves. We are ranking up our production ... but this needs several weeks and in the meantime we are grateful for support from China.”

Von der Leyen said she had spoken to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who said China could ship 200,000 N95 masks, 2 million surgical masks and 50,000 testing kits to Europe immediately.

Before Li’s pledge, the EU had received no offer from manufacturers after it launched a call to purchase masks and goggles, an internal EU document seen by Reuters showed.

Manufacturers, mostly based in China and other Asian countries, face soaring demand from all over the world.

The EU is assessing offers for gloves and body protection equipment, and is also seeking to buy ventilators and laboratory equipment, including testing kits.

Of the 27 EU states, 25 have joined the joint procurement effort for protective equipment, which is meant to facilitate purchases, lower prices and avoid harmful competition among member states.

However, many are also trying to acquire protective gear on their own and last week China sent face masks to Italy, the European country worst-hit by the virus.

The Commission said it had persuaded France and Germany to lift export restrictions they imposed on protective gear produced by manufacturers based in their territories, in a move aimed at preventing possible shortages across the bloc.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio and John Chalmers, Editing by William Maclean

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