COVID-19 Updates

China tried to buy medical materials in January and February according to Czech media outlets

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According to several media outlets, representatives of China tried to buy essential medical material in the Czech Republic in January and February, but the Czech government, warned by the counter-intelligence service (BIS), banned the export.  Media outlets Respekt, DenikN and Aktualne.cz have reported the story without specifying their source.

BIS spokesman Ladislav Sticha declined to comment on the information.

The Czech cabinet of Andrej Babis (ANO) banned the exports of selected medical equipment and medicines earlier this month.

Like other countries, the Czech Republic suffers from a shortage of equipment such as respirators and face masks which it needs to combat the new coronavirus epidemic.

According to Respekt, the Chinese representatives tried to organize a purchase of medical material in Czechia in the first two months of 2020, when the epidemic was peaking in China, while there was still no confirmed COVID-19 case in the Czech Republic.

The Chinese sought to buy face masks, respirators, protective suits, and other items. They succeeded in exporting a part of them from Czechia, Respekt wrote.

The local Chinese community joined the purchasing efforts, but it is not clear whether Chinese diplomats were also involved, Respekt wrote.

DenikN and Aktualne.cz wrote that the BIS conveyed the information about the Chinese buyout of Czechia’s medical material to Babis and some ministers in early March.

Citing two high-ranking sources from the government and civil administration, DenikN s wrote that the purchases were organized by the Chinese embassy in Prague, according to the BIS, and that the embassy sent the material to China through third parties, mostly business firms.

Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek (Social Democrats, CSSD) has refused either to confirm or refute DenikN’s information.

“It is true that countries have been seeking medical material everywhere. Our embassies, too, have been instructed to secure some. Maybe you are looking for a problem where no problem exists. In a situation where the healthcare system’s needs are soaring, foreign countries, the same as the Czech Republic, have tasked their embassies to seek opportunities for medical material purchases. Everyone has searched wherever possible,” DenikN quoted Petricek as saying.

Aktualne.cz wrote that Zhou Lingjian, an influential member of the local Chinese community, assisted in the purchases.

In recent weeks, the Czech Republic, where the virus appeared in the meantime, has tried to buy the lacking medical equipment mainly in China, which is the world’s biggest producer. Czech politicians have said the purchases have been successful thanks to the Chinese contacts of President Milos Zeman and Interior Minister Jan Hamacek (CSSD).

In February and early March, Czechia sent a consignment with humanitarian aid to the virus-afflicted China, to which the government, regions and private businesses contributed.

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