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Prague organizes an airlift to repatriate masks and respirators from China

(B2) A Ukrainian Antonov An-124-100 with more than 100 tons of medical supplies from China landed overnight from Saturday to Sunday (March 22) at Pardubice airport in the Czech Republic. The first of a long series

The gloved and suit-wearing soldiers tackle the unloading of masks and other respirators from the giant plane (credit: Czech army Jana Deckerová)

A giant cargo

Inside the Ruslan type aircraft (Condor according to the NATO code), five million masks, two million respirators (NB: masks equipped with respirators to differentiate from artificial respirators), 200.000 rapid tests, 120.000 combinations of protection and 80.000 glasses spread over 134 pallets. That is 106 tons of material. The plane had started its journey three days earlier, Thursday morning in kyiv. After a stopover in Baku (Azerbaijan), he landed in Shenzhen on Friday afternoon, before returning to Czech land overnight from Saturday to Sunday. A few minutes later, another plane, civilian this time from the China Eastern company, landed at Prague International Airport (Vaclav Havel) with seven million masks inside, according to theCTK agency, relayed in the Czech press.

A real airlift

As soon as the unloading was done, the plane took to the air again. Direction: its base in Leipzig (in Germany), to carry out a crew change. And hop straight back to take off in the direction of Shenzhen (China) to bring home, in the Czech Republic, a second cargo of equipment. Expected arrival: Tuesday (March 24). A third flight should take place “ at the end of the month according to Defense Minister Lubomír Metnar. Friday, according to military sources. A real airlift is taking shape over the next six weeks, because in addition to the planes chartered by the Ministry of Defense, there are civilian planes.

A flight made thanks to the Salis program

Ironically, while NATO has repeatedly warned against Chinese entryism (especially in 5G) in recent times, it is thanks to the NATO program, says SALIS, that this theft may have taken place (1). Program allowing participating countries to benefit from the right to draw a certain number of hours on these heavy-duty, Russian-Ukrainian machines.

A slightly better organized distribution

To avoid the incipient mess, a distribution has been fixed. 2,3 million masks will go to university hospitals, via the Ministry of Health. " And another 2,9 million will go to firefighters, responsible for distributing them via the regions to regional hospitals and other facilities. said Interior Minister Jan Hamáček. " We want health materials to be distributed as efficiently as possible said Prime Minister Andrej Babiš present on site to welcome the cargo.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. The strategic transport of Europeans passes through Leipzig. The renewed Salis contract (sheet)

Clarifications provided on the concept of respirators

A diversion of a fraudulent cargo

The discovery of a shipment of masks destined for Italy made the headlines of the European press, taking up the information revealed by the daily Republic, inflating somewhat, accusing Prague of lacking solidarity. The story is actually a little more complicated and looks more like an ordinary crime story.

Czech customs announced on Tuesday (March 17) that they had got hold of a batch of 680.000 masks in a warehouse in Lovosice, a small town northwest of Prague nestled not far from the German border. A lot that the 'sellers' tried to resell to local hospitals at a good price. Even if the boxes bear the inscription 'Donations of the Red Cross' and 'Forza Italia, we are at your side' (intended for the Chinese community present in the peninsula), a good part is redistributed to hospitals.

To put an end to the growing controversy, Prague has promised to send, without waiting for the end of the investigation, 110.000 of the masks seized to Italy. " The Czech side deliberately did not hold things back “, justified in a letter the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tomáš Petříček, according to Ceske Noviny, to his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio. This seizure was aimed at an organized group that had probably committed fraud ". For the Czechs, the information was blown up. The whistleblower – an employee of the AMO research institute, Lukáš Leo Červinka, also a member of the pirate party – never declared, according to the CTK agency, that all the cargo seized was intended for the 'Italy.

It remains to be seen how Chinese masks arrived in a small remote town, not far from the German border and Dresden. No one seems surprised. In any case, the quantity of masks seized is relatively small compared to the quantities ordered by Prague legally. So accusing the Czechs of having organized a rapine on the back of Italy is perhaps a little hasty.


Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).