China donates 20,000 face masks to help protect Portsmouth as ambulance staff face 'national crisis'

THOUSANDS of surgical masks are being donated to Portsmouth by officials in China to help the city combat the spread of Covid-19, The News can reveal.

Monday, 30th March 2020, 3:54 pm
Updated Monday, 30th March 2020, 6:11 pm

About 20,000 of the much-needed protective equipment are being shipped from the Chinese city of Zhuhai, which is twinned with Portsmouth.

The gesture was in response to a fundraiser by members of the Portsmouth Chinese Association in January to help Chinese cities then plagued by the virus.

It comes amid claims ambulance staff were ‘at the brink’ and facing a ‘national crisis’ over a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), with 4,100 medics nationally now in self-isolation.

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L-R: Albert Choi, Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Cllr David Fuller and Cllr Lee Mason during a visit to China

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Portsmouth Chinese Association chairman Albert Choi, said his group raised £600 to pay for 10,000 masks, which were sent to the cities of Zhanjiang, Zhuhai and Wuhan – the epicentre of the coronavirus crisis in Asia – via the Red Cross.

Now, China has repaid Portsmouth for its kindness, with Zhuhai City Polytechnic donating 20,000 masks, which are expected to arrive later this week.

Mr Choi said: ‘We feel very honoured that our mother country is thinking of us, even though we are far away from our home, just like we did when they were raging with the virus.

A worker wears protective clothing as a preventive measure against the Covid-19 coronavirus as he watches over customers to ensure they queue a meter apart in a supermarket in Beijing on March 30. (Photo by GREG BAKER/AFP via Getty Images)

‘We should be united to fight this smokeless war and hopefully life will return to normal.’

Figures released by union bosses at GMB revealed 303 workers from South Central Ambulance Service, which covers the Portsmouth area, were now in self-isolation.

GMB claim medics have no access to PPE, even when treating patients suspected of having Covid-19, and that when supplies do get through, they are out of date.

The news came as the city’s Covid-19 death toll rose to 72, after four more people – two women and two men, all with underlying health conditions – died at Queen Alexandra Hospital.

Albert Choi, owner of restaurants Noble House and Chez Choi and chairman of Portsmouth Chinese Association. Picture: Sarah Standing (160157-9943)

Dr John Knighton, medical director at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, said: ‘We have spoken with the families of the patients and our thoughts are with them at this difficult time.’

Rachel Harrison, GMB national officer, said the government must now act to protect medical staff from the deadly virus.

‘The lack of protective equipment for our frontline workers is nothing short of a national crisis and it’s going to bring services to the brink,’ she added.

‘We’ve got thousands of workers self-isolating. Some will have the virus after working without proper protective gear, others might just have a cold and could be at work but without testing there is no way to know – it's creating a capacity issue and putting more people at risk.

‘The government need to act now to get PPE to the frontline, and immediately start testing frontline staff as a priority.’

The face masks from China were shipped to Portsmouth on Friday.

It’s understood 10,000 will go to Portsmouth City Council, while the other half will head directly to the people of Portsmouth.

Some could potentially be used for ambulance staff.

Councillor Gerald Vernon-Jackson, leader of Portsmouth City Council, was delighted by the gesture and said: ‘Everybody knows that this pandemic is something that doesn’t respect borders and that people working together is the only way of overcoming this and defeating this virus.’

Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP, praised the city’s Chinese community for showing ‘local leadership’ in helping others 5,000 miles away.

‘The fact that we have now received a helping hand in response, in this time of need, is a testament to the power of kindness and taking international responsibility,’ he said.

Former international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, Portsmouth North MP, added: ‘We can only beat Covid-19 and future pandemics by international co-operation and support.

‘That is why the UK spends about £1bn a year on global health security through the aid budget.

Portsmouth has about 2,000 Chinese residents.