Minister: We're ordering Chinese coronavirus equipment, as Europe is closed

Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) on Thursday's
Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) on Thursday's "Esimene stuudio". Source: ERR

Estonia will continue to get protective equipment during the coronavirus pandemic from a Chinese company, Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) says, since Europe is currently closed.

The equipment, for hospitals, nursing homes, the police and others, will be supplied for up to one month, and a contract has been signed with a credible company in China, Aab said.

The finance ministry announced Thursday that the Estonian state has ordered US$11.4 million-worth of masks, gloves, protective suits, goggles and other equipment from the company; 7.6 million protective masks alone have been ordered.

"The entire [Chinese] order is a one-month supply, as the situation progresses. Even if there end up being more people in intensive care, the supply is covered," Aab said, speaking on ETV current affairs show "Esimene stuudio".

The order covers 5.5 million surgical masks, two million FFP-2 respirators and 100,000 FFP-3 respirators, for use by doctors, Aab said.

The next question is the logistics of getting the volume into Esonia, which will require three or four flights, Aab went on.

"Part of the order is about to arrive at supplier's warehouses in the near future. Now it depends on our logistical capacity, that we have to get a reasonable amount to fit on one plane. Initially, this means three or four full aircraft," he said.

A Chinese supplier was sought since a supplier could not be found in Europe at present. 

"Most countries have reserved all their production capacity for themselves. There are various restrictions that are not publicly acknowledged - Europe is practically shut," the minister said.

Estonian ambassador to China involved

Estonia's Ambassador to China has been working with Chinese authorities to ensure a reliable supplier was found. 

"We can check their background via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA), so that we do not get in over our heads," Aab said.

As for Europe, however, the restoration of supply chains will take a long time, Aab went on. 

"If we look at neighboring countries, no one is in any better shape - the shock struck everyone at once. Supply chains and contracts, including for personal protective equipment, were suddenly interrupted, and they still aren't working today," Aab ​​said.

Aab said hospitals currently have the required reserves, but they are getting close to a critical margin. 

"It is estimated that different hospitals currently have a week or two [of supplies] available, given that there may be more patients coming in. We have also placed one order, which had to come from Europe, which should materialize, and there is a chance that tomorrow (Friday-ed.) will bring surgical masks."

"If this does not happen, at some point hospitals will have to share their supplies with care homes," said Aab.

The minister praised hospitals for being in a situation where contracts and supply chains had failed and yet they had been able to procure some supplies.

Protective equipment orders not really the state's responsibility

"This (ordering of protective equipment - ed.) Is not really the responsibility of the state, since every service provider - the hospital, the nursing home - would have to worry about supplies itself.

Aab added there is still a shortage of disinfectants available to state and local authorities, although not yet at pharmacies. 

"We are promised they will come right away," Aab ​​noted.

Concerning movement restrictions, Aab said the government has so far imposed these according to the threat situation, as the number of people infected has risen.

"It can be seen that those (countries) that have taken a lenient line in the beginning have finally come round to the point of beginning to impose clear restrictions. In practice, it is clear that tighter restrictions limit the spread," he said.

Stressful negotiations

Aab signed the US$ 11.4 million deal on Thursday, after a long negotiation period.

"The extremely stressful negotiations lasted for over 12 hours," Aab said at the time, according to BNS.

"In Estonia, we started work at 3 a.m. in cooperation with specialists from the North Estonia Medical Center (PERH) and the Ministry of Social Affairs," he went on.

"The Estonian embassy in China was behind the successful negotiations. Among other things, they helped to make sure that it was a trustworthy company. Special thanks are due to Ambassador Andres Unga and his team, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."

The order is to be completed in 10-20 days, but it is also likely that the first part of the delivery will be received sooner, BNS reports.

Other smaller orders are also in the works to ensure critical protective equipment before the Chinese supply arrives, the minister said.

"In order to disperse risks, hospitals and ministries are trying to procure protective equipment from different suppliers. Smaller quantities have already arrived and have been distributed," Aab added.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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