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A medical worker stores test kits at a drive-through testing site for coronavirus for employees at UW Medical Center Northwest in Seattle. Photo: Reuters

Coronavirus: Masks and test kits donated by Jack Ma arrive in US

  • Chinese-made supplies will be distributed by US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention amid shortages in United States
  • Before the contagion took hold in the US, China was on the receiving end of America’s charity

The first shipment of Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s donation of 1 million masks and 500,000 coronavirus test kits to the United States arrived in the US on Monday morning.

The supplies, which will be distributed by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), were purchased in China since its factories have gradually resumed production. The shipment of a second batch will depend on availability, said a spokesman at the Jack Ma Foundation.

Ma is the co-founder of Alibaba, owner of the South China Morning Post.

The United States is facing a shortage of kits for diagnosing the deadly contagion, which has led to widespread criticism of the federal government for its slowness in preparedness and response. Public health officials have rebuked US President Donald Trump for playing down the seriousness of the rapidly spreading illness.

Workers in China load donated medical supplies bound for the United States. Photo: Handout

Shortages of laboratory equipment, reagents and swabs mean many people are still unable to be tested despite the CDC’s guidance that anyone with a doctor’s order can do so with no restrictions.

The gift by Ma, who stepped down as the Chinese e-commerce giant’s chairman last year, is the first by Chinese entrepreneurs to the United States amid the finger-pointing between officials and politicians from the two powers.

Ma created a personal Twitter handle over the weekend and his first post was about the shipment’s progress.

His foundation has also donated medical supplies to Europe, Japan, South Korea, Iran and 54 African countries, and it has also pledged US$14 million to help develop a coronavirus vaccine.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is based in Seattle, has pledged US$100 million to help global detection, isolation and treatment of the coronavirus.

Amazon and Microsoft have also announced US$1 million donations to a fund to help the Seattle area, which is the US epicentre of the pandemic and where the two companies are based, combat the outbreak.

Before the contagion took hold in the US, China was on the receiving end of America’s charity, with Washington pledging US$100 million on February 7 to help it and other affected countries.

Chinese official in US thanks NBA for helping fight virus outbreak

US companies including Microsoft, General Motors, Boeing and the NBA donated funds and shipped supplies to China, especially to the city of Wuhan, where the global pandemic started.

In the United States, more than 3,600 people have been infected and at least 68 have died. Worldwide, the number of cases has passed 170,000 with more than 6,650 deaths.

Shelves at a grocery store in Maryland are nearly empty. Photo: Getty Images/AFP

Last week, The New York Times reported that a CDC worst-case projection showed 160 million to 214 million Americans contracting the disease, with 2.4 million to 21 million needing hospitalisation and 200,000 to 1.7 million dying.

In response to the report, Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious-disease expert, said the worst-case scenario could possibly be mitigated if containment and other means of mitigation were properly imposed.

As multiple states ordered the closure of restaurants, bars and theatres, among other restrictions, thousands of Americans lined up outside grocery stores over the weekend, continuing the panic buying of essentials that have flown off shelves.

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