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A German Lieutenant unpacks boxes of FFP2 quality masks A German Lieutenant unpacks boxes of FFP2 quality masks  (AFP or licensors)

Countries fight over medical supplies amid Covid-19 pandemic

As countries struggle to contain the new coronavirus outbreak, a global fight has emerged over dwindling medical supplies. The tensions have even led to growing competition for medical equipment between the United States and its traditional European allies.

By Stefan J. Bos

The local government in the German state and capital, Berlin, claims that 200,000 US-made protective masks bound for Germany never arrived. Authorities say the shipment was "confiscated" in Bangkok, Thailand.

The masks were ordered by Berlin's police force to keep functioning amid the global coronavirus pandemic. But Andreas Geisel, Berlin's interior minister, said they were presumably diverted to the United States.

An American firm producing the masks, 3M, has been prohibited from exporting medical products to other nations under a Korean-War-era law invoked by U.S. President Donald Trump. But Berlin's local government called the move "modern piracy."

The dispute is the latest example in the growing competition for medical goods that even led to tensions among traditional allies.

Worldwide shortages have caused health care workers to fall sick and forced doctors in Europe to make life-or-death decisions about which patients get a breathing machine.

"Treasure hunt"

President of France's battered Île-de-France region, Valerie Pecresse, has called the search for supplies and bidding wars a "worldwide treasure hunt." The hunt comes while official confirmed infections of the new coronavirus COVID-19 rose past 1 million, and deaths topped 58,000.

It has also led to a standoff between North American neighbors Canada and the United States. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urges the U.S. to end cross border competition for medical supplies.  "It would be a mistake to create blockages or reduce the amount of back and forth trade of essential goods and services, including medical goods across our border.  That is the point we are making very clearly to the American administration right now," he said.  

But there appeared some solidarity between former Cold War-era rivals the United States and Russia. U.S. President Trump confirmed his decision to accept 60 tons of medical supplies from his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin sent to COVID 19-hit New York.  

He brushed aside criticism that Russia would misuse this aid for propaganda against the West. "I am not concerned about Russian propaganda. Not even a little bit," Trump stressed. "He [Russian President Putin] offered a lot of high-quality medical stuff that I accepted. And that may save a lot of lives. I take it every day," Trump added.      

The supplies landed earlier this week at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos
04 April 2020, 16:45