Vietnam has shipped nearly half a million protective suits to the United States, marking a quick turnaround in bilateral talks to deal with the significant U.S. shortage in medical equipment, and resulting in a tweet of thanks from the U.S. president.
"This morning, 450,000 protective suits landed in Dallas, Texas," U.S. President Donald Trump said Wednesday in a post on Twitter. "This was made possible because of the partnership of two great American companies—DuPont and FedEx—and our friends in Vietnam. Thank you!"
The U.S. embassy in Hanoi said a second shipment of 450,000 suits from Vietnam would follow "to address the urgent need for protective equipment for frontline providers responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States."
Vietnam is still working to keep COVID-19 under control domestically. It has had 251 people infected in total and has recorded no deaths as of Friday. That relative stability has allowed it to send medical aid to nations such as Laos, Spain and now the U.S.
The aid stands in contrast to worries elsewhere the pandemic is encouraging protectionism, with nations trying to limit exports of medical supplies. The limits around the world range from Moscow suspending exports of personal protective equipment, to the White House telling 3M not to sell surgical masks abroad.
Americans are more familiar with buying "Made in Vietnam" garments and footwear, given the Southeast Asian nation's large manufacturing base. It is that manufacturing capacity that makes it possible for firms such as Dupont to speed up production of protective coveralls in Vietnam. Dupont said it took 10 days to finish the protective suits and fly them from Hanoi to Dallas — a process that usually takes 90 days and includes transport on a container ship.
Vietnam also is in good shape with supplies of other medical goods, like face shields and shoe covers, according to a source familiar with the matter.
"This international operation enables the DuPont plant in Vietnam to produce TYVEK suits and ship them to the Strategic National Stockpile, allowing us to deploy suits to where health care workers need them most," said U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
Previously, it was unclear how the national stockpile would be used. Presidential adviser Jared Kushner said at a press briefing last week the supplies are "not supposed to be states' stockpiles that they then use."
The Health and Human Services Department said Wednesday, however, it would work with "states, territories, tribal nations and certain cities" to get the suits from Vietnam to "the health care facilities and workers most in need."
Hospital workers in the United States have complained of shortages of protective clothing, ventilators, and other crucial medical supplies.
The government of Vietnam said on its official website it was supplying the medical suits this week because "the United States currently has a great demand" and Vietnam aimed to show its "spirit of mutual support to partner countries, including the United States."
"This is also Vietnam's participation and contribution to the global effort to push back the COVID-19 epidemic," the government said.