Brazilian Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta told a news conference on Wednesday that China is shipping very few of the ventilators Brazil ordered for victims of the Wuhan coronavirus, so bids from Brazilian companies are now being solicited to build the machines.
“Practically all our purchases of equipment in China are not being confirmed,” Mandetta said, referring with particular dismay to an order for 15,000 ventilators from Chinese providers.
Mandetta said a local equipment maker called Magnamed has been contracted to build 6,000 ventilators over the next 90 days. Several industrial concerns, including paper companies and automaker Fiat Chrysler, have also offered to make ventilators.
Brazil, which now has about 16,000 coronavirus cases and 800 fatalities, is running severely short of vital supplies, including masks as well as ventilators. A private company called Nutriex was able to purchase six million protective masks from suppliers in China and fly them into Brasilia by cargo plane on Wednesday. The company said some of the masks would be donated to medical charities.
Brazil’s notoriously crowded slums, the favelas, and its tribal communities are special areas of concern. Several coronavirus deaths have been reported in the most crowded of the favelas. Mandetta said field hospitals will be built to help mitigate the pandemic’s impact on the country’s 850,000 indigenous inhabitants, who favor a village lifestyle that makes social distancing techniques difficult to practice.
The pandemic has become a major source of diplomatic tension between Brazil and its largest trading partner China, with the United States looped in by allegations from Mandetta this week that some of the supplies Brazil ordered from China were bought up by the United States when they passed through Miami en route to South America. U.S. Ambassador to Brazil Todd Chapman dismissed those reports as “false.”
Another Brazilian official, Education Minister Abraham Weintraub, enraged China on Sunday by accusing it on Twitter of using the Wuhan virus pandemic to “dominate the world.”
“Geopolitically, who will come out stronger from this global crisis? Who in Brazil is allied with this infallible plan for world domination?” he asked.
The Chinese embassy called Weintraub’s accusations “absurd and despicable” and accused him of using a “racist character” in a cartoon to mock China, specifically by spelling the name “Brazil” as “BLazil” to make fun of Chinese accents.
Weintraub later deleted the tweet but gave a subsequent radio interview denying any racist motivations, accused the Chinese of profiteering on coronavirus supplies, and offered to apologize for his remarks only if China sent Brazil some medical supplies.
“Have them deliver 1,000 ventilators to my hospitals and I’ll go down to the embassy and say, ‘I’m an idiot,’” he said on Monday.