The first plane from China carrying 20 tons of medical equipment, including masks and protective suits to contend with the coronavirus outbreak, has touched down in Israel, the Defense Ministry said Monday.
Another plane was en route to Tel Aviv, the ministry said, with a third set to take off later in the day.
Eleven airplanes in all, containing millions of pieces of medical equipment, including ventilators, will arrive in Israel from China in the coming days, the Defense Ministry said Sunday.
The ministry said it coordinated the effort alongside the Foreign Ministry, El Al and Israel Chemicals.
Video from the plane showed boxes of equipment strapped into the planes seats.
— shimon yaish שמעון יעיש (@shimonyaish) April 6, 2020
The ministry said Sunday that the first flight would bring 900,000 surgical masks, half a million protective suits and other medical gear. Additional protective equipment will be coming in the coming days, alongside several ventilators.
Two El Al planes will fly to Israel from China each day through the rest of the week bringing more supplies, the ministry said.
The virus, which causes the COVID-19 disease, first spread at the end of last year in China, where it is known to have killed at least 3,300 people.
The air convoy is the latest in Israel’s efforts to bring much-needed supplies from abroad for use by medical staff in the campaign to treat patients infected with the virus, and prevent its further spread.
Last week, the Health Ministry said that security services and government ministries had managed to obtain 27 ventilators and a hoard of other medical equipment from abroad.
Hebrew media reported last week that the Mossad intelligence service, which has been tasked with securing medical equipment from abroad from unspecified countries amid worldwide shortages, helped obtain 25,000 N95 respiratory masks, 20,000 virus test kits, 10 million surgical masks, and 700 overalls for ambulance workers who usually carry out the initial testing for the virus.
It was the third such shipment by the Mossad over the past few weeks, aimed at addressing shortages in Israel.
There have been growing concerns there may not be enough ventilators to treat all of the most seriously ill.
According to a report prepared last month for the Knesset’s Special Committee on Dealing with the Coronavirus, there were at most 1,437 ventilators in the country still available to treat patients. The Health Ministry disputed that figure, saying there were 2,864 available ventilators.
Last week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered defense officials to acquire enough kits to perform 30,000 tests a day, but a shortage of a key reagent means that, instead, the number of people being checked has gone down.
On Sunday, however, the Health Ministry released a statement saying, “Over the weekend, it appeared that a solution was found to the reagent issue that will allow the test goals to be met.”
The statement added: “The Health Ministry is working constantly, in cooperation with all relevant agencies — the Defense Ministry, the army, the Mossad — to meet the goal of 10,000 tests a day.”
The Health Ministry said Monday that 8,611 people have been confirmed to be infected with the coronavirus in Israel. So far, 51 people have died.
There were 141 people in serious condition and 107 on ventilators. A total of 585 people have recovered from the virus.
Globally, more than 1.2 million are known to have been confirmed infected with the virus and almost 70,000 have died, according to figures from the Johns Hopkins University virus website, which collates data from around the world.
Along with Israel, many countries are scrambling to obtain medical supplies, and in particular ventilators, to treat virus patients.