A sixth medical aid instalment from the People’s Republic of China arrived on Saturday to help Venezuela fight the COVID-19 pandemic.
The eighty-tonne planeload landed at Caracas’ Maiquetia International Airport via an air bridge between the two countries, and reportedly brings the total from the Asian giant to nearly 300 tonnes since the outbreak reached Venezuela in March.
According to officials, the latest cargo contains medical supplies and PCR testing equipment, more than 800,000 quick tests and 2 million facemasks, protective white coats and goggles and biosafety suits, all donated by the Beijing government as well as private Chinese companies.
In response, President Nicolas Maduro thanked Venezuela’s “true friends,” likewise mentioning Russia, Cuba, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN) who have all donated supplies recently. Iran is reported to also have aid en route to Caracas.
“Thanks to [them,] genuine humanitarian aid is arriving to our country to attend to the health of our people. Thank God Venezuela has some true friends in the world, we aren’t alone!” the president wrote on Twitter.
The Caracas government has signed a series of agreements with international bodies over the past year in order to equip the country’s hospitals and prepare them for the COVID-19 pandemic, including with the Red Cross and United Nations agencies.
Speaking on behalf of Beijing and upon delivering the latest aid installment, China’s ambassador to Caracas, Li Baorong, took aim at Washington’s unilateral coercive measures, claiming that “imposing sanctions on Venezuela and blaming China doesn’t help us confront the new coronavirus.”
US sanctions prohibit foreign players from trading with Venezuelan state entities, and have blocked the country’s access to international financial markets. A number of Venezuelan assets abroad have also been blocked since 2018, including Venezuela’s US-based oil subsidiary CITGO, valued at over US $7 billion, and US $1 billion worth of gold in the Bank of England. The Maduro government recently filed a lawsuit to have the gold released and used to supply medical supplies needed in the fight against the coronavirus via UN agencies.
A chorus of international voices have called on Washington to lift or ease the sanctions since the COVID-19 outbreak, including UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and the Pope. Recently, however, Washington has opted to intensify the policy, blacklisting four fuel shipping firms last month as well as threatening five Iranian fuel tankers en route to the country.
Nonetheless, a recent COVID-19 agreement between the Maduro government and the opposition has paved the way for the release of US $10 million of Venezuelan funds based in Spain, also destined as payment for UN-supplied medical supplies.
Venezuela culminated its first week of easing its COVID-19 lockdown on Sunday, following eleven weeks of strict quarantine since March 17.
Under the new week-on-week-off system, a range of businesses, including banks, hardware stores and clothes shops, are authorised to open for seven days before being asked to close for the following seven. Schools and public administration remain exempt from the plan, which Maduro described as a “total success.”
The easing comes as a recent ICS poll indicated that the virus is not the most serious problem for Venezuelans, with 20.9 percent of those consulted claiming it to be fuel shortages, 14.3 percent the virus and 11.4 percent inflation rates. Cases, however, continue to rise, with 22 deaths reported at the time of writing and 2,473 identified cases, six times more than a month ago.
With no reported community transmission cases reported on Sunday or Monday, health officials have claimed that 83 percent of the country’s cases have been“imported” from returning migrants, prompting the government to unveil a series of measures to reign in transmission at the country’s borders. Several border municipalities have not been included in the plan to ease the lockdown, with night-time curfews in place and border crossings restricted to three days a week.
An estimated 71,000 Venezuelans have reportedly returned to the country since March, transiting through Colombia and Brazil where COVID-19 cases continue to be much higher. Many of those returning claim to have experienced xenophobia and a lack of social coverage while abroad. Returning Venezuelans are required to observe an obligatory 14-day quarantine period and PCR test upon re-entering, with the government warning about the use of unofficial crossings, known as trochas, that bypass sanitary and security controls, and urging border residents to report those who use them.)