Wuhan virus: China's Premier Li Keqiang asks EU to facilitate urgent procurement of medical supplies

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (second from right), who heads a leading group on the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus outbreak, visits the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing on Jan 30, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS, XINHUA) - China's Premier Li Keqiang has asked the European Union (EU) to facilitate China's urgent procurement of medical supplies from member countries, the Chinese government said on Saturday (Feb 1), amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The number of deaths from a coronavirus epidemic in China has risen to 259, the country's health authority said on Saturday, as the United States announced new border curbs on foreign nationals who had been in China.

The province of Hubei, the centre of the epidemic, remains under virtual quarantine, with roads sealed off and public transport shut down, but small numbers of travellers continue to breach the lockdown.

China will also implement tax exemptions for imports of products related to curbing the coronavirus outbreak, the finance ministry said on Saturday.

Materials directly used for epidemic control will be exempt from import tariffs from Jan 1 to March 31, the ministry said in a statement on its website.

Imports of donations including ambulances and disinfectant products will also be exempt from tariffs, value-added tax and consumption tax, it added.

The first batch of medical supplies including masks purchased by Alibaba Group from overseas arrived on Thursday at the Shanghai Pudong International Airport, according to the Hangzhou-based e-commerce giant.

The medical supplies from Indonesia were transported by Eastern Air Logistics, a subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines.

Another aircraft, loaded with over 11 tonnes of medical supplies, which were also bought by Alibaba, departed from Seoul and landed in Shanghai on the same day.

The materials will be used in the prevention and control of the novel coronavirus epidemic in central China's Hubei.

China Eastern Airlines has said it would team up with Alibaba in the purchase and transportation of medical supplies from countries including Indonesia, South Korea and Russia.

Alibaba said it has worked with several cross-border e-commerce platforms to buy medical supplies.

It has set up a 1-billion-yuan (S$197 million) special fund for medical supplies as well as a health guarantee of up to 500,000 yuan for medical workers who are on the frontline fighting the epidemic.

Separately, to stabilise domestic supply amid the coronavirus outbreak, China's commerce ministry Saturday called for active expansion of meat imports.

Based on preliminary data, imports of meat products such as pork and beef arriving at ports totalled 310,000 tonnes in the first half of January, up 275 per cent from a year earlier. Imports of those products are expected to rise 190 per cent on year to 640,000 tonnes in January, it said.

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