In Depth

Coronavirus: is Donald Trump secretly asking Europe for help?

Leaked email suggests US leader has sought medical aid from European and Asian partners

The US traditionally plays the rescuer in global emergencies but that role has been reversed during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to reports.

Donald Trump has claimed that his administration is “literally being besieged” by domestic manufacturers offering to produce medical supplies to combat the outbreak in US.

At a White House briefing on Tuesday, the president insisted that no outside help was required, saying: “We should never be reliant on a foreign country for the means of our own survival. America will never be a supplicant nation.”

But “behind the scenes, the administration has approached European and Asian partners to secure supplies of testing kits and other medical equipment that are in desperately short supply in the US”, The Guardian reports.

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Which countries is the US said to have asked for help?

According to Foreign Policy, an email was sent to embassy officials in Europe and Eurasia on Sunday to request information on which countries could sell “critical medical supplies and equipment” to the US.

The appeal was issued by the State Department’s Office of US Assistance to Europe, Eurasia, and Central Asia, which “under normal circumstances coordinates delivering US aid and assistance to countries in Europe and Eurasia, not the other way around”, says the news magazine.

“The fact that many countries are managing a Covid-19 outbreak should not/not necessarily dissuade posts from approaching host country officials and, as appropriate, the private sector, on this matter as there have been instances where such countries have signalled a readiness to sell the US surplus equipment and supplies,” the email reportedly reads.

“Depending on critical needs, the United States could seek to purchase many of these items in the hundreds of millions with purchases of higher end equipment such as ventilators in the hundreds of thousands.”

The appeal “underscores the severity of the ballooning coronavirus health crisis” in the US, where officials are braced for “a worst-case scenario based on how the pandemic has ravaged overburdened healthcare systems in countries like China and Italy”, adds Foreign Policy.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that on Tuesday, Trump made a phone call to South Korean President Moon Jae-in to ask whether the Asian nation could supply medical equipment.

“The official White House account made no mention of the request, but according to the South Korean presidency, the Blue House, the call was made at Trump’s ‘urgent request’,” says the newspaper.

The claim comes days after German officials announced that they had fended off a Trump administration offer to buy exclusive access to a potential vaccine being developed by a German company.

And on 18 March, the Defense One military news site reported that the US air force had quietly flown half a million nasal swabs from Italy to Memphis, for distribution across the country.

As The Guardian notes, the US is “by far the largest buyer of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies from China, and is seeking to import Chinese face masks and protective gear, but negotiations have been complicated by growing acrimony between the two countries, over what Trump has insisted until very recently on calling the ‘China virus’”.

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