US asking allies for extra stockpiles to help fight coronavirus
The State Department is asking to purchase from other countries excess materials needed to fight the coronavirus pandemic, though President Trump has insisted the U.S. is well-equipped to handle the outbreak.
A senior State Department official in a briefing with reporters on Tuesday said the U.S. is asking countries if they have excess materials or excess capacity to manufacture key items needed to battle the spread of the virus.
The U.S. has directed its missions abroad to determine whether certain countries “may have excess capacity” or the ability to manufacture supplies for export to the U.S., the official said.
The State Department has set up a “tracker” to organize which countries have available supplies, and the information is sent to other agencies, like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
The effort is an attempt to offset any supply chain issues, the official said, and deliver external suppliers and external sources to states and entities in the U.S. that are running low on supplies.
“Fighting coronavirus has definitely become a global issue, and we’re looking for partners, and I think countries are looking at us to partner with them to fight the virus as much as possible,” the official said.
The development comes after Trump held a call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday during which he allegedly asked his South Korean counterpart to send any spare medical equipment that could help combat the coronavirus, according to a statement issued by South Korea’s Blue House and reported by Reuters.
The White House issued a statement on the phone call, which did not mention Trump’s request, that said the two leaders “discussed their nations’ respective efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic” and that Trump “reiterated his commitment to employ the full weight of the United States Government and work with global leaders to save lives and restore economic growth.”
The Trump administration has sent conflicting signals about the supply of medical equipment domestically to help hospitals across the country address the virus.
Trump has insisted the United States is in a good position to acquire and distribute medical supplies because of cooperation from domestic firms. The president invoked the Defense Production Act last week but said he hasn’t needed to use the Korean War-era law to force U.S. companies to produce critical medical supplies because invoking the law itself has been sufficient to call them into action.
“We’re receiving full cooperation from companies with the understanding that the federal government stands ready to compel cooperation if need be. We haven’t found that to be the case,” Trump told reporters at a White House press briefing Tuesday evening.
“It’s been really amazing to see these big, strong, powerful — in some cases very small companies, family-owned companies — step up and make a lot of great product for what we’re going through and what we will continue to be going through for a while,” the president added.
Trump has faced pressure from members of Congress and hospital groups to use his authorities under the Defense Production Act amid reports of a shortage of medical supplies like protective masks, testing kits and ventilators.
FEMA Administrator Peter Gaynor said in a CNN interview Tuesday morning that the agency would use the law to secure testing kits, but the agency later said it was able to secure the kits without it.
The agency has also come under fire from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who said the state needs 30,000 ventilators to meet the demands for the expected number of patients. He said FEMA has provided only 400 of the critical breathing machines.
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