By Cecile Mantovani
GENEVA, April 6 (Reuters) – A Boeing 747 landed in Geneva on Monday with 92 tons of protective medical equipment including masks made in China to be distributed to 13 Swiss hospitals and pharmaceutical associations as they fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The flight contained 2.5 million surgical masks, 10 million gloves and glasses and thermometers valued at more than 3 million Swiss francs ($ 3.1 million), and were made by Sinopharm Group Co. Ltd.
Another shipment arrived in Zurich on Sunday night with a Swiss airline flight from Shanghai carrying protective gowns for dozens of health care facilities. Further flights with additional equipment are planned.
Christophe Weber, president of the Swiss-Chinese Chamber of Commerce for western Switzerland, which helped arrange Geneva deliveries, said that the order was placed in response to appeals from doctors and pharmacists amid a serious supply shortage.
“I always assume that we, Switzerland, have the necessary quota for protective medical equipment and unfortunately this is not the case and it becomes urgent to take action,” he said at Cointrin airport in Geneva.
About a dozen police officers surrounded the cargo. The equipment was inspected inside an airport warehouse and will be moved to another secret location to be redistributed, under police escort, Monday night.
Weber said the government knew about the shipment and agreed.
“Competition is very crowded with Americans now joining the bid and we know about their firepower,” said Vincent Subilia, director general of the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, who is also involved with shipping, referring to the mask as “blue gold” “.
A German official last week said that orders for 200,000 masks headed for Germany had been “confiscated” in Bangkok and transferred to the United States, calling it “an act of modern piracy”. The United States has no knowledge of the shipment, a spokeswoman said.
Switzerland reported 21,652 positive COVID-19 cases on Monday and 584 deaths, with the new confirmed increase rate slowing.
This has mobilized soldiers to help support the hospital. The medical aid organization Medecins Sans Frontieres is helping at the University Hospital of Geneva, which is one of the facilities for receiving equipment.
It was not immediately clear whether additional supplies would fill the Swiss supply gap.
Daniel Koch, a key figure in the federal government to fight the epidemic, said on Swiss television RTS on Sunday: “There are stocks for hospitals, for professionals, for retirement homes, and a functioning distribution system.” ($ 1 = 0.9790 Swiss francs) (additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Michael Shields in Zurich; writing by Emma Farge; editing by Nick Macfie)
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