Coronavirus: Malaysia receives much-needed medical supplies from China in biggest consignment yet

Bhavan Jaipragas

Malaysia, the country in Southeast Asia hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, on Saturday received its largest consignment of medical supplies from China to date, with much-needed ventilators and masks among the donation.

As Malaysia’s infection rates surged in recent weeks, it has been one of the top beneficiaries of China’s so-called “mask diplomacy” drive to share equipment and expertise with other nations as it begins to bounce back from the pandemic much earlier than the rest of the world.

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The latest consignment was formally handed over to the Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein by the Chinese ambassador Bai Tian in a brief ceremony, the Malaysian foreign ministry said in a statement.

The supplies consist of 100,008 nucleic acid diagnostic testing kits, 100,000 N95 masks, 500,000 surgical masks, 50,000 sets of personal protective equipment and 200 ventilators.

Chinese Ambassador to Malaysia Bai Tian, third from left, at the handover ceremony for the first batch of medical supplies donated by China on March 19. Photo: Xinhua

“According to ambassador Bai Tian, the consignment is a gift to Malaysia in recognition of the very close relations and friendship between his country and Malaysia,” the ministry said. The supplies are also a “gesture of goodwill in return for the valuable assistance that Malaysia had extended during the initial phase of Covid-19 in China,” it added.

Malaysia’s health ministry director general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah on Saturday afternoon said the total number infections in the country had risen to 2,320, after 159 new cases were confirmed. The death toll currently stands at 27.

The country’s frontline medical workers in particular are likely to welcome the supply of ventilators, which are crucial to help treat the most severe coronavirus patients who are experiencing lung failure, and have been described by the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, as the equivalent “to this war what missiles were in World War II”.

Last week, Noor Hisham said his ministry had placed an order for 800 additional ventilator units. At present there are 1,670 ventilators of various types in the country.

A Health worker in a protective suit gestures in a tent erected to test for coronavirus at a clinic in Kuala Lumpur on March 24. Photo: AP

The Chinese government and state-backed companies have in recent weeks sent Malaysia multiple batches of supplies including masks, goggles, test kits and surgical face shields – the first being dispatched on March 19.

That donation was publicised by the Chinese embassy, which posted pictures on Facebook of a truck carrying the supplies adorned with a banner that carried both countries’ flags and a Malay idiom that referenced solidarity in good and bad times.

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The China Communications Construction Company, which is building a multibillion dollar rail link in Malaysia, as well charity foundations linked to South China Morning Post-owner Alibaba Group Holding and its co-founder Jack Ma have also made contributions.

Apart from equipment, China is also considering sending medical experts to Malaysia, embassy official Jue Yun told local daily the New Straits Times on Saturday.

City health officials prepare to spray disinfectant on a street as a precaution against coronavirus in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. Photo: AP

Hishammuddin requested help from China soon after he assumed his role on March 11, following the dramatic political coup last month staged by the Perikatan Nasional coalition against the government of elder statesman Mahathir Mohamad.

In the early days of the outbreak, China lauded Mahathir as “an old friend of the Chinese people” after he refrained from imposing a blanket ban on visitors from the mainland – a policy the likes of Singapore, Australia and the US put in place to Beijing’s displeasure.

Aside from Malaysia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Thailand are among the Asian countries that have received medical supplies from China in recent weeks.

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