US, Germany, France In War Of Masks

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By ANAYO ONUKWUGHA  Port Harcourt with Agency Report, CHIMA AKWAJA Lagos, PATIENCE IVIE IHEJIRIKA Abuja, Tunde Oguntola]

As Coronavirus continues to ravage the world, scarcity of safety equipment essential to the fight against the global pandemic is fuelling tension among long-time transatlantic allies, with local officials in France and Germany accusing unnamed Americans of using unfair means to obtain protective masks.

According to two French officials, the US buyers waving wads of cash allegedly managed to wrest control of a consignment of masks as it was about to be dispatched from China to one of the worst-hit COVID-19 areas of France.

The desperate global scramble has sparked a ‘War for Masks’. In France they are calling it the “guerre des masques” the war of the masks.

The masks were alleged to be on a plane at Shanghai airport that was ready to take off when the US buyers turned up and offered three times what their French counterparts were paying.

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Jean Rottner, a doctor and president of the GrandEst regional council, said part of the order of several million masks heading for the region, where intensive care units are inundated with Covid-19 patients, had been lost to the buyers.

But Berlin’s state interior ministry blamed the US for confiscating 200,000 masks ordered from a US producer when they were in transit through Bangkok. French officials have accused unidentified Americans of paying over the odds to secure masks in China that had already been earmarked for France.

The US embassy in Paris said any suggestion that the federal government was involved in such practices was “completely false.” There was no immediate response the allegations from the White House or the State Department.

“We view this as an act of modern piracy. You cannot act in such a way among transatlantic partners. Such wild west methods can’t dominate, even in a time of global crisis,” Berlin Interior minister, Andreas Geisel, said.

With hundreds of western citizens dying each day, the incidents highlight the fundamental distrust between the US and Europe. It risks hampering efforts to collectively tackle the damage unleashed by a virus that has brought the world’s economy to a standstill.

The degree of suspicion also feeds into a narrative that it’s every nation out for itself as Europeans are also viewing with greater skepticism offers of help from Russia and China, wondering if there are strings attached.

French Prime minister Edouard Philippe said that his administration has seen orders canceled as a result of the global shortage of protective gear. Some French officials are blaming unidentified Americans for swooping in to outbid them as they try to secure supplies.

“A load was taken from us by Americans who overbid on a batch that we had identified,” Valerie Pecresse, regional president of Paris, told broadcaster LCI Thursday. “We pay on delivery because we want to see the masks, while Americans pay cash and without looking. Of course, this is more attractive for those who just seek to turn a profit on the back of the world’s distress.” She didn’t say whether the people involved were federal officials, company representatives or private individuals.

The pandemic has left governments, companies, charities and individuals around the world competing for scarce supplies of protective kit and medical equipment as health care systems face an unprecedented surge of highly infectious patients with acute, sometimes deadly respiratory problems.

3M Co. on Friday defended its decision to export respirators from its U.S. facilities to Canada and Latin America, saying there would be “significant humanitarian implications” from halting supplies. President Donald Trump earlier threatened retribution against the company for sending masks and ventilators outside the US.

The head of the Grand Est region in France, Jean Rottner, told RTL radio that his representatives had been outbid by rivals from the U.S. when they were trying to source masks.

“On the tarmac, Americans take out cash and pay three or four times the price for our orders, so we really have to fight,” he said.

A spokesman for Rottner declined to comment.

With the whole world trying to buy masks from China, it’s possible that there may have been some “incidents” involving the delivery of orders, an official in the President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.

“The United States government has not purchased any masks intended for delivery from China to France. Reports to the contrary are completely false,” the U.S. Embassy said in an emailed statement.

France has taken delivery of 1.7 billion euros ($1.8 billion) worth of masks already and the volume is set to increase after this week’s air shipments arrived as planned, Macron’s aide said.

The president has promised that France will be able to produce all the masks it needs domestically by the end of the year as the administration works to ramp up production.

Further Tensions

During the weekend, another dispute emerged over emergency medical equipment with Madrid accusing Ankara of retaining a shipment of respirators bought by two regional Spanish governments from a Turkish company.

Turkey cited the risk of a shortage at home in holding onto the ventilators, Spain’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Spain would insist on reimbursement if the equipment was not released, it added. There was no immediate comment from the Turkish government.

China, the world’s largest mask manufacturer, was the first country to be hit by the Covid-19 outbreak and was also accused of stashing its supplies. It has, however, since been one of the few countries to go the other way, selling or donating millions of masks to Europe. One such shipment bound for Italy went through the Czech Republic, where it was seized by authorities under disputed circumstances.

Czech authorities denied allegations of state-backed stealing by Giornale Radio Rai, the radio news arm of Italy’s public broadcasting company, RAI. They said the masks had made their way to a warehouse north of Prague, where they were confiscated in an anti-trafficking operation. The foreign minister, Tomáš Petříček, later said his government had sent 110,000 masks to Rome as compensation.

A similar incident occurred in Kenya, where a shipment of up to 6m masks bound for Germany mysteriously disappeared while passing through the east African country, although there has been no suggestion that the government was responsible.

China, the world’s largest mask manufacturer, was the first country to be hit by the Covid-19 outbreak and was also accused of stashing its supplies. It has, however, since been one of the few countries to go the other way, selling or donating millions of masks to Europe. One such shipment bound for Italy went through the Czech Republic, where it was seized by authorities under disputed circumstances.

Shortages In France

Numerous French officials have also spoken about the difficulty of securing deliveries as other customers outbid them. French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe spoke Thursday of “difficulties sometimes in accessing the products from orders that are not always delivered. This is for a variety of reasons, including the huge demand that comes to China from the United States, from Europe, and indeed from the whole world.”

The presidents of two regions in France have alleged that American customers — without specifying who — had tried to pay Chinese suppliers three or four times the agreed price to get critical supplies diverted.

Renaud Muselier, president of the Sud region, alleged in several interviews that an order from one unnamed French region had been bought by the Americans for cash — and the plane that was due to fly to France had instead gone to the US.

Muselier was asked by CNN affiliate BFM-TV whether masks had been taken by Americans at Chinese airports.

He replied: “Exactly,” before adding, “There is a foreign country that paid three times the price of the cargo on the tarmac. So, the masks are gone and the region that ordered them has been destitute.”

Contacted by CNN, Muselier referred further questions to the French Foreign Ministry, which said Thursday it was looking into the reports.

Jean Rottner, the president of another French region, Grand Est, echoed Muselier’s remarks telling French radio network RTL that it was a daily battle to secure orders.

“It’s true,” he claimed, “that on the tarmac the Americans arrive, take out cash and pay three or four times more for the orders we have made, so it’s necessary to fight.”

Contacted by CNN, Rottner’s office would not elaborate on his claims, but a third regional president, Valérie Pécresse of Île-de-France, said the quest for masks was a global treasure hunt.

“We had made an order but were unable to complete it because others were ready to pay three times the market price,” Pecresse told radio network Franceinfo. She did not identify the “others.”

Orders Blocked

In the meantime, governments are requisitioning what they can – testing existing relationships and alliances. Last month the French government said it was seizing all masks being made in the country.

One French company, Valmy SAS, was obliged to divert an order for PPE from the UK’s National Health Service, a regular customer. A representative of the company in the UK told CNN that the order had been blocked by customs officials at the French coast.

The World Health Organization has warned for several weeks that hoarding and shortages of protective equipment is leaving doctors and nurses “dangerously ill equipped” to look after Covid-19 patients.

The World Health Organization has warned for several weeks that hoarding and shortages of protective equipment is leaving doctors and nurses “dangerously ill equipped” to look after Covid-19 patients.

Prepare For More Deaths Next Week, Trump Tells Americans

There is going to be a lot of death in U.S. next week from coronavirus, United States President Donald Trump has said.

President Donald Trump told Americans to brace for a big spike in coronavirus fatalities in the coming days, as the country faces what he called the toughest two weeks of the pandemic.

“There’s going to be a lot of death,” Trump said at a briefing with newsmen on Sunday.

He pushed back on criticism that the federal government has not done enough to get ventilators that many critically ill coronavirus patients need to survive to the states.

According to him, some governors are asking for more machines than they will need.

“Fears of shortages have led to inflated requests,” Trump said of submissions his administration has received to dole out equipment from the strategic national stockpile.

The U.S. has the world’s highest number of known cases of COVID-19, the flu-like respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.

According to a Reuters tally, over 306,000 people have tested positive in the U.S. and over 8,300 have died.

White House medical experts have forecast that between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans could be killed in the pandemic, even if sweeping orders to stay home are followed.

“We are coming up to a time that is going to be very horrendous. We probably have never seen anything like these kind of numbers. Maybe during the war, during a World War One or Two or something,” Trump said at the White House.

On Saturday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that in the grimmest day yet for the U.S. state hit hardest by the pandemic, coronavirus-related illnesses had killed 630 people in the last 24 hours in New York State.

“The disease has now killed 3,565 people in New York and the situation is particularly worrying on Long Island, east of New York City, where the number of cases is like a fire spreading,” Cuomo told a news conference.

Health experts calculate that New York, home both to bustling Manhattan and hilly farm country stretching to the Canadian border, might be around a week away from the worst point in the health crisis which has killed about 60,000 people worldwide.

“We’re not yet at the apex, we’re getting closer. Our reading of the projections is we’re somewhere in the seven-day range.

“It’s only been 30 days since our first case, it feels like an entire lifetime,” Cuomo said.

New York City alone accounted for over a quarter of the U.S. coronavirus deaths tallied by Johns Hopkins University.

Hospitals and morgues in the city are struggling to treat the desperately ill and bury the dead.

Because of the risk of infection, many people with critically ill relatives in New York City are unable to see their loved ones in their final hours.

A resident at New York-Presbyterian hospital said he and his colleagues have made several death notification phone calls every shift this week.

“There’s something sort of unquantifiably painful about telling a family their loved one died without letting them see them,” he said.

The emergency stockpile of medical equipment maintained by the U.S. government has nearly run out of protective garb for doctors and nurses. (Reuters/NAN)

Nigeria’s Confirmed Cases Now 224 With 5 Deaths

Meanwhile, Nigeria has confirmed 10 new cases of COVID19, bringing the total confirmed cases in the country to 224.

According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), six of the cases were reported in Lagos and two each in FCT and Edo State.

The Centre noted that 27 persons had been discharged with five deaths.

“Ten new cases of COVID19 have been reported in Nigeria: six in Lagos, two in FCT and 2 in Edo. As at 11:15am 5th April, there are 224 confirmed cases of COVID19 reported in Nigeria,” NCDC explained.

The new cases brought Nigeria’s confirmed COVID-19 cases to 224.

Twenty-seven of the cases had recovered and discharged while five deaths had been recorded.

It said that currently, Lagos has 115 cases; Abuja- 45; Osun- 20; Oyo and Edo have nine cases each, Bauch -six; Akwa Ibom- five; Ogun and Kaduna four cases each.

Others were: Enugu and Ekiti- two cases each, while Rivers and Benue and Ondo States has one case respectively.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that data from the World Health Organisation (WHO) Africa Region, showed that there were 8,377 cases on the African continent with 371 deaths recorded.

Lagos Discharges 5 More Patients

The Lagos State government yesterday discharged five more patients comprising two males and three females, including a 10-year-old girl who have tested negative twice consecutively to #COVID-19 and have been discharged from Infectious Disease Hospital, Yaba, to reunite with their families.

Governor Babjide Sanwo-Olu who announced this while briefing journalists at Lagos House, Marina, also announced that a 36-year-old man died of coronavirus in the state.

He said the latest release brings to 29 the total number of patients who have fully recovered and discharged from the facility at Yaba.

Sanwo-Olu noted: “It is however sad that the State has recorded another death, bringing to two the total number of deaths from COVID19 in Lagos State.

“Although, there is a strong indication that the State is winning the battle against the disease which is ravaging several countries across the world but we need to remain steadfast and aggressive to curtail the spread.

“I need to reiterate that the result of tests conducted by our health workers on the recovered patients is a confirmation that they pose no threat to the community.

“I will like to use this opportunity to advise Lagosians against stigmatising the discharged patients as this act could bring feelings of shame, hopelessness and despair. We need to do all we can to support them in whatever form to get over the memories as soon as possible.

“I wish to thank our frontline health workers who are taking good care of the patients, members of the Lagos State Health family and the Emergency Operation Centre for their kindness and flexibility in managing the patients and checking the spread of the disease.

“As the disease ravages countries all over the world, Lagos State will continue to do the needful in terms of responding to emergencies in an effort to ensure the health and wellbeing of our people. We will do our best to make sure that other patients at the facility receive the best of care and attention so that they can return home to join their families and the community soonest.

“In order to contain the spread of the disease, I strongly advise you to continue observing Social Distancing. Let us remain indoors and shun the temptation to breach the presidential restriction that has been placed on our state so that the gains recorded so far are not eroded”.

FG Takes Delivery Of Medical Supplies From Turkey

Meanwhile, Air Peace yesterday delivered the first batch of federal government’s medical supplies to fight against the spread of Coronavirus pandemic and treatment of those infected.

Its Chief Operating Officer, Mrs Toyin Olajide, said in a statement in Lagos that the medical supplies were carried by Air Peace aircraft Boeing 777 with registration number 5N-BWI.

Olajide said the aircraft landed at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, from Istanbul, Turkey on Saturday night.

She gave kudos to the federal government for its efforts to curtail the spread of Coronavirus disease in Nigeria.

Olajide said that the Nigerian government was ahead of some countries in the fight against the virus.

He stated: “The management of Air Peace commends the Federal Government for being proactive in the preparation for emergencies, preventing the spread of the virus, and for also providing the kits and other medical equipment for the treatment of those infected by the pandemic.

“This shows that government is ready to fight this disease and it is even more prepared that governments of some of the advanced nations in the measures and strategies adopted to eradicate the virus”.

Also, an inside source told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the flight left Nigeria early Saturday for the seven hours flight to Turkey and was able to lift the supplies and returned to Nigeria before midnight.

The source also said apart from the first medical supplies, the airline would leave Nigeria for China on Monday with Boeing 777-ER marked 5N-BVE for another batch of medical supplies.

According to the source, Air Peace will also deliver other supplies for the federal government.

“It will leave for Beijing on Monday for 15 hours non-stop flight to China with its B777-ER with registration number 5N-BVE,” the source said.

Christians Mark Palm Sunday Indoors

Meanwhile some Christians in the Federal Capital Territory yesterday celebrated Palm Sunday at home in compliance with federal government’s directive against public gatherings.

LEADERSHIP observed that few families placed palm fronds and other branches outside their doors as a symbol that it was Palm Sunday.

Mr John Odoh of Dakwo District said he placed the palm frond in front of his home as a reminder to others that in spite of the Coronavirus pandemic, it was Palm Sunday.

He added: “The palm is just a symbol announcing to the world that we should forget the Coronavirus for a second and celebrate Jesus as He enters Jerusalem.

“There has been too much gloom since this lockdown was declared so today, I decided that we will have some cheer in the house. This has really brightened the children’s day as you can see they are playing with their palms.

“So, at least for today, it will be discussions on Palm Sunday and Holy Week and not COVID 19”.

Ms Rahima Yakubu also said that she placed the branch in front of her door to represent the procession she would have taken part in if not for the Coronavirus pandemic.

“I really miss the Palm Sunday procession. I couldn’t even get palm fronds around me so I have to resort to this tree branch. Ordinarily, I will get from the church because the youths will cut some, and bring for parishioners to take from but thanks to Coronavirus pandemic, this is not so this year,” Yakubu lamented.

She, however, said that in spite of the Coronavirus pandemic, she would use the Holy Week to help her neighbours to do their chores and also share her food with them.

For his part, Mr Alex Ubani also told NAN that he placed one palm frond in front of his home and one inside as his family watched a live telecast of the mass from Our Lady Queen of Nigeria Pro-cathedral.

Ubani said, “We joined Arch Bishop Ignatius Kaigama at the procathedral through the live telecast and his sermon was comforting as he encouraged us to spread peace not war.

“The call of the Arch Bishop is apt because there are several conspiracy theories concerning this Coronavirus pandemic, which creates a lot of fear and worry.

“If you dwell on the theories, you will have no choice but wish bad for people from a certain part of the world. So his sermon reminds us that in the entire crisis, we are still Christians.

“I also hope that government will heed his advice to use the funds donated by people judiciously and also extend the palliatives to more Nigerians because a lot of people are in need now.”

He appealed to Nigerians to desist from spreading fake news about the virus particularly during the Holy Week.

Palm Sunday is celebrated to commemorate the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on a donkey where palm branches were placed for the donkey to walk on.

It marks the beginning of the Holy Week, which is the final week of the Lenten Season.

The Bishop of Evo Diocese of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) in Rivers State, Rt. Reverend Innocent Ordu, has called on Christians to use the celebration of 2020 Palm Sunday to call on God Almighty for mercy, and save mankind from the ravaging Coronavirus.

Ordu made the call while preaching a sermon on Palm Sunday service which held at Saint Andrew’s Anglican Church, Rumuobiokani, Port Harcourt.

The church service which was beamed live by a private television station, was held in conformity with the Rivers State government guidelines on social distancing, hand washing and use of hand sanitizers.

The congregation prayed earnestly for Nigerians and the federal and state governments for God to bless their efforts in combating the dreaded disease.

The Bishop stated that Nigeria and indeed the world is bleeding and crying as a result of the dreaded Coronavirus, and therefore searching for a Messiah to rescue them.

He said: “Let’s cry unto God now. Let’s call on Him to forgive our sins and save us from Coronavirus. The word of God says He will heal our infirmities; He will restore our health; the Lord is compassionate.

“As we celebrate the triumphal entry of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, let us call on Him to heal us and save us from the Coronavirus pandemic. Viruses are subject to Jesus.”

Airtel Nigeria Donates N1.9bn

Meanwhile, Airtel Nigeria has announced a commitment of over N1.9 billion towards the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria.

It had earlier commenced a multi-million-naira educational awareness campaign to sensitize Nigerians on steps to take in preventing spread of the virus.

Providing a breakdown of the pledged sum, Airtel said N200 million will go towards provision of an Isolation Centre or any required medical facility agreed with the appropriate health authority in the country, another N120 million towards provision of over 100,000 N95 Respirator Masks for Health Workers across the country.

It is also offering free Short Message Services (SMS) to customers across all networks worth over N1 billion as well as free data for customers to access educational and health sites worth about N500 million.

The sites include those of Federal Ministry of Health and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control on COVID-19.

Airtel added that it was also committing about N100 million to support the NCDC, Port Health Services and the 36 States, including the FCT on provision of toll-free lines to help in the fight against COVID-19 and to connect the NCDC’s offices nationwide with Broadband services.

The telecom giant said its employees are not left out, as they have voluntarily contributed N20 million to be donated to Lagos State government during the week for provision of food items to needy families during this crisis.

Chief executive officer and managing director of Airtel Nigeria, Segun Ogunsanya, speaking on the efforts of the organization to join Nigerians and corporate entities to stop the spread of COVID-19, said Airtel was deeply connected with the feelings of every Nigerian at this time and it is inspired to act and continue to go the extra-mile to ensure a stop to the spread of the deadly Coronavirus.

“As a key stakeholder in Nigeria, we are committed to supporting government at every level in stopping the spread of COVID-19. We will continue to intensify our efforts and support as we leverage our technology and network to bring relief and succor to Nigerians at this trying time. We have an obligation to support our communities in fighting this virus and I have no doubt in my mind that we will succeed.” he said.

Airtel had since commenced the educational awareness campaign, which include rendering Public Service Announcements in local languages including Yoruba, Hausa and Igbo.

The nationwide awareness campaign went live on Tuesday, 24th March 2020 and has been heavy on both traditional and social media and across radio, billboard, press, phones/devices and digital media.

Acknowledging Airtel’s donations to the Port Health Services, Dr Morenike Alex-Okoh, the director of Nigeria’s Port Health Services commended Airtel Nigeria for pledging its support immediately the request was made and indeed fulfilling the promise within a short space of time.

Others are PASS.NG, a leading exam preparation platform for SSCE, JAMB, NECO, Common Entrance, ICAN, JSCE, N-Power) and Screenclass, an emerging learning platform offering tutorials in key subjects for Junior & Senior Secondary School, Common Entrance.

Airtel has also assured that its priority during this COVID-19 period will be the wellbeing and safety of all its employees, customers, their family as well as every Nigerian.

“At this point, we know that our first priority must be you and your family’s health and well-being, and we hope you stay safe and healthy. At the same time, our hearts go out to those at the front line: medical staff and caregivers who put themselves at risk to do all it takes to serve others.

“In much the same way, we at Airtel also accept that we provide an essential service – keeping our customers and the country connected. Therefore, we are doing everything we can to keep our employees and partners safe as they connect you with your businesses and loved ones.  We know there is a great responsibility on us as connectivity providers, to do what it takes to keep you connected during this crisis” said Ogunsanya.

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