Brazil’s health minister said the country faced a “serious problem” getting enough mechanical ventilators and had spoken to China to try and ensure it would be able to fill an order for face masks as coronavirus deaths accelerated.
Latin America’s largest country has confirmed 13,717 coronavirus cases, while deaths rose to 667, exceeding 100 in 24 hours for the first time.
Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said he had spoken with the Chinese ambassador on Tuesday to ensure fulfilment of medical equipment orders. “We need to bring 40mn masks from China,” he said at a news conference. “We are having difficulties in the Chinese market to guarantee these purchases.”
A source with knowledge of Mandetta’s conversation with the ambassador in Brasilia said Brazil also wants to buy ventilators from China.
Brazilian officials are trying to smooth over an earlier diplomatic spat after the Brazilian education minister and President Jair Bolsonaro’s lawmaker son criticised China for its handling of the crisis. The coronavirus has also caused tensions with the US.
The US ambassador to Brazil has denied reports that the US government took Chinese medical equipment that had been ordered by Brazil to fight the pandemic.
“The US government did not buy or block any material destined for Brazil. Those reports are false. We have investigated this,” ambassador Todd Chapman told reporters in a conference call.
Mandetta last week said China had cancelled some Brazilian equipment orders after the US government sent more than 20 cargo planes to China to buy the same products.
Chapman, a career diplomat who arrived in Brasilia last week, said suppliers around the world were taking advantage of the huge demand for medical equipment such as personal protective equipment, gloves and masks.
Brazilian media also reported that a shipment destined for Brazil was diverted for use in the US during a stopover in Miami after suppliers were offered higher prices.
Mandetta resumed leadership of Brazil’s efforts to stop the spread of the virus after winning the backing of the cabinet on Monday in a clash with Bolsonaro over the need to reinforce social distancing.
Central bank president Roberto Campos Neto, speaking alongside Mandetta, said the bank had acted more boldly and quickly than ever before to pump liquidity into Brazil’s financial system.
S&P Global Ratings on Monday lowered its outlook on Brazil’s sovereign debt to “stable,” citing the huge fiscal effort to soften the economic blow from the outbreak, which will likely widen the government’s nominal fiscal deficit to 12% of GDP from 6% last year.
Chapman, who served as deputy head of the US embassy in Brasilia from 2011-2014, said the Trump administration is considering suspending all flights to Brazil, but no decision has been taken yet. “It is important to protect our country and it is important for Brazil too. We are evaluating this constantly in talks with Brazilian authorities,” he said.
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