Efforts by China to play the good Samaritan by supplying medical kits to countries battling coronavirus are failing, with countries rejecting poor quality supplies. Spain, Turkey, Georgia, and the Czech Republic have withdrawn Chinese rapid test kits from use while the Netherlands has recalled over 600,000 made-in-China masks.
Over the past few weeks, China furiously raced aid in the form of medical supplies, kits, and trained personnel to help countries combat the virus. The world was grateful as the Chinese had mastered the virus while countries like Iran, Italy, and Spain were still battling it with poor results. There were other countries that were noticing with increasing apprehension the rise in coronavirus infections.
It was a win-win situation for everybody. European countries were happy to receive experienced hands on the deck. China was eager to show its humanitarian face and reclaim lost ground after the virus ran amok from Wuhan.
However, the Chinese strategy to placate the world failed spectacularly.
Spain suspended the use of Chinese rapid test kits used to detect coronavirus after the kits failed to detect positive cases. The country has been in the grip of a deadly coronavirus attack with more than 85,000 confirmed cases and well over 7,340 deaths. It is the worst-hit country in Europe after Italy that has nearly 100,000 cases with close to 11,000 fatalities.
Spanish experts said Chinese kits are failing to detect positive corona cases. Spanish newspaper El Pais said in a report that the Chinese kits have just 30 per cent sensitivity and, therefore, are able to detect only 30 per cent of the positive cases whereas the tests need to be at least 80 per cent sensitive to be effective.
A spokesperson at the Carlos III Health Institute, which is under the Spanish government, said the China-made test kits would be returned. The Director of Spain's Centre for Health Alerts and Emergencies, Fernando Simon, said that the 9,000 test kits from China were found to be “not good enough” and Spain has decided to return those.
Reports say that China rushed similar kits to Georgia and the Czech Republic, beside many other countries in a bid to stem growing anger that the virus emanated from the country. The Chinese strategy was to deflect criticism about not disclosing information initially, reducing crucial time for others to build an effective firewall against the virus.
Complaints poured in from elsewhere. Georgia cancelled the contract with the Chinese company that manufactured the kits, saying the results are inaccurate.
The Czech Republic complained about the quality of the kits. The Czech media said that up to 80 per cent of the 150,000 portable rapid test kits were faulty.
Turkey withdrew the kits saying these gave inaccurate results. Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said that rapid antigen tests had arrived from China, but health authorities “weren't happy about them.” He added that the country has received a different set of kits from China.
Turkey has stepped up action against the spread of the infection as the number of confirmed infections crossed 9,000 with 131 deaths. Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan asked the countrymen to observe a voluntary quarantine, banned international flights and reduced intercity bus travel.
Even as these countries were battling with delays due to sub-standard coronavirus kits, the Dutch government was tackling another challenge. The Netherlands had ordered nearly 1.3 million masks from China to protect its health professionals and had distributed almost half of these at hospitals and medical facilities. However, the masks failed to meet quality standards in two different tests and the government recalled them. The rest nearly 700,000 masks remain unopened.
This has been the second time in a span of few months that China let down the world in quick succession. The first was when the virus first emerged in Wuhan and the authorities suppressed information. But as the infection spread and deaths mounted in Wuhan, the veil of secrecy was lifted and China disclosed the epidemic it was facing. By then it was late for the world.
China has tripped up on an opportunity to paint itself as a superhero to the world. Its newly-gained expertise against coronavirus could have helped the virus-distressed countries but the latter are unlikely to forget 'help' that became an obstacle instead.
Even as Europe battles the infection with a sense of dismay, China's over-eager humanitarian efforts have boomeranged on it. Too many countries facing their moment of crisis have been let down by a country that is keener to refurbish its image than provide help.
The story is not over as yet. With China claiming it has sent medical supplies to dozens of countries, news of faulty coronavirus test kits and sub-standard masks is likely to make news in days to come..