Venezuela received a donation of tons of medical supplies from China at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas on Monday 17th. The shipment included a batch of half a million doses of the Chinese state-owned Sinopharm vaccine against COVID-19. "It is with great joy that I report that 500,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine from the People's Republic of China are now arriving in Venezuela. This is wonderful news that fills us with great hope. Soon we will begin the mass vaccination of our people," Maduro announced on Twitter. On the same social network, Maduro thanked his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, and "the noble Chinese people for their unwavering spirit of cooperation and solidarity towards our beloved homeland".
These messages were accompanied by a picture of a plane of the Venezuelan state airline Conviasa. The announcement of the government's authorisation of Sinopharm's vaccine came hours before the plane's landing. After the Russian Sputnik V, this is the second vaccine approved to date by Maduro's government.
It was in October 2020 when the president proclaimed that Venezuela would approve one of the four Chinese vaccines under development at that time, although he did not specify which one would be chosen. He also added that these doses would be administered to the population completely free of charge. Since the beginning of the pandemic, there has been an air link between China and Venezuela through which medicines and protective equipment have arrived to deal with the pandemic and the resulting health crisis. "Venezuela has approved the use of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine to immunise the Venezuelan people against COVID-19. Thanks to the China-Venezuela cooperation we attend to the health and lives of our people," the health ministry reiterated on Twitter.
In charge of receiving the plane with which the vaccines were transported was Vice President Delcy Rodríguez. There she stressed that the generous donation from the People's Republic of China "adds to Venezuela's vaccination plan", "a plan where we have prioritised the health sector and, with these vaccines, we will continue to address this very special sector that is at the forefront of the battle against COVID". One of the main recipients of this new batch of vaccines will be, according to the vice-president, the sector of education professionals. Justifying the need for their immunisation before the return of students to schools next April. "We will also address security personnel. The Chinese government's donation to Venezuela is very important," he added.
The plane also carried donations from companies including medicines, masks and protective suits, according to public broadcaster VTV. "The Chinese companies allied with the people and the country, we are grateful for this noble and humanitarian gesture," Rodriguez emphasised.
Venezuela has said it received the first 100,000 doses of Sputnik V on February 13 and has invested $200 million to buy 10 million doses in the country of some 30 million people.
An adviser to opposition leader Juan Guaidó, recognised by dozens of countries as Venezuela's legitimate president, said last week that the country could start receiving WHO's COVID-19 vaccines through the global COVAX programme in May. Maduro has not publicly confirmed that government officials were involved in those talks.
Venezuela, with approximately 30 million people, has accumulated almost three million tests performed, although the authorities do not specify whether these are molecular, antigenic or rapid, while Peru, with more than 32 million, has performed more than seven million tests, including all forms of samples. Although the government has authorised quarantine relaxations for extended periods of time during holidays such as Christmas and Carnival, the level of cases remains low compared to other countries in the region, such as Peru.
Venezuela's National Academy of Medicine said Monday that the country has secured enough vaccine supplies to immunise about 38 percent of the population, the second lowest level in Latin America and only ahead of El Salvador. Official data show Venezuela has reported 139,116 cases of coronavirus and 1,344 deaths. Opposition politicians question these figures, arguing that testing has been insufficient.