Coronavirus: Turkey denies it seized ventilators destined for Spain amid epidemic of medical piracy

US accused of being the most egregious usurper of medical supplies

Borzou Daragahi
Sunday 05 April 2020 18:47 BST
Throughout Europe, in the face of a shortage of masks, gloves or ventilators, all kinds of industries are striving to adapt their production line to put it at the service of the fight against the coronavirus
Throughout Europe, in the face of a shortage of masks, gloves or ventilators, all kinds of industries are striving to adapt their production line to put it at the service of the fight against the coronavirus (SEAT/AFP/Getty)

Turkish authorities announced the release of a shipment of crucial medical equipment to Spain within days after coming under fire by Madrid officials accusing them of holding onto the supplies.

Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu dismissed as “an ugly accusation” reports that Turkey sought to confiscate the shipment of life-saving ventilators crucial for treating the most severe Covid-19 cases.

“We have authorised the export of 116 ventilators to Spain following the instructions of the health ministry, and they will be sent to Spain in the coming days,” he said, according to the official Anadolu News Agency.

The supplies are reportedly worth €3m (£2.4m).

“Thank you, Turkey, for authorising the export of Turkish respirators,” Spanish foreign minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya wrote on Twitter late Saturday, hours after publicly criticising Ankara. “We appreciate the gesture of a friend and ally.”

The coronavirus pandemic has unleashed a global scramble for medical equipment, with governments accused of confiscating shipments of personal protective equipment and ventilators destined for other countries in what some are describing as outright piracy. Tunisia last month accused Italy of seizing a shipment of medical alcohol bound for the north African country.

The Trump administration has been accused of the most egregious offences, including swiping shipments destined for Germany, France and Canada for its own use, and withholding or even seizing supplies destined for use in American states politically hostile to him, his oligarchic allies and the agenda of his evangelical Christian supporters.

Ventilators are crucial to keep alive patients so sickened by Covid-19 that they are unable to breathe on their own. The ones reportedly held up by Turkey were purchased by the Spanish regions of Navarra in the north and Castille-La Mancha east of Madrid to address one of the most deadly outbreaks of coronavirus in the world. Spain has recorded 12,418 deaths and 130,759 confirmed infections, second worldwide only to Italy.

Just days earlier, Turkey shipped plane loads of medical equipment to Spain and Italy, both Nato partners. But Turkey too has begun to experience the accelerating impact of Covid-19, reporting at least 425 deaths and 20,921 cases. Medical practitioners in major cities have begun describing overwhelmed emergency rooms and intensive care wards.

On Friday, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced tightened restrictions, including requiring masks at supermarkets and barring anyone under 20 years old or over 65 from leaving their homes.

While Turkish public health officials say they are coping with the deluge, Mr Cavusoglu, speaking late Saturday, said 94 countries had requested medical equipment from Turkey in a bid to battle the coronavirus, putting pressure on the country’s medical supply industry.

Exports of all medical supplies now require the authorisation of the ministry of health, a layer of bureaucracy which Turks say held up the shipment of the Spanish-bound ventilators, which included parts from both Turkey and China.

Mr Cavusoglu chastised private Turkish firms for cutting export deals without considering domestic needs.

“They go and make contacts with some countries,” he said. “They put the country Turkey in a difficult situation for the sake of earning money. This is not right.”

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