Boxes of masks are loaded onto a US cargo plane at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
South Korea on Monday sent 2 million face masks to the US, which is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world.
The Foreign Ministry said a US cargo flight carrying the protective masks left Seoul and is expected to arrive in the US on Monday (local time). They will be distributed to medical facilities at the forefront of the COVID-19 response.
The assistance follows a phone conversation between Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump on March 24, where they agreed to cooperate to tackle the global pandemic.
Korea’s domestic COVID-19 situation, the local supply of masks and the need for assistance from the country’s biggest ally were taken into consideration, the ministry said.
“We hope that South Korea and the US quickly overcome the shared challenge of COVID-19, and this can contribute to sharing our quarantine experience with the international community,” the ministry said in a statement.
US Ambassador Harry Harris expressed gratitude.
“A BIG thank you to ROK and @TheBlueHouseKR for providing 2 million face masks to @fema. Our alliance and friendship are as vital and ironclad today as it was 70 years ago,” Harris tweeted with the hashtags “Thank You ROK” and “We are in this together.”
Earlier, the US federal government purchased 750,000 test kits from Korean manufacturers in April. The states of Maryland and Colorado also purchased 500,000 and 100,000 tests, respectively, from local manufacturers.
The US has now become the epicenter of the global pandemic, with the world’s highest death toll of 80,574 and 1.36 million cases.
It’s not the first time Korea has provided assistance to the US. In 2005, it sent $5 million for Hurricane Katrina, and in 2017 it sent $2 million for Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.
While the export of face masks is strictly prohibited, the government is allowing shipments of masks for humanitarian purposes, only when it is officially requested by a foreign nation.
Over 70 countries have requested masks from Korea so far.
By Ahn Sung-mi (firstname.lastname@example.org