BELGRADE, Sept. 8 (Xinhua) -- Medical aid from China, along with the logistics of these supplies to Europe in recent months, have played a critical role in the continent's combat against the COVID-19 pandemic.
As early as mid-March, the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in Italy sounded an alarm to China to boost the development of a Health Silk Road, which aims to expand and strengthen cooperation among countries in Europe and across the world in the field of health.
Apart from the readiness of the Chinese government and companies as well as the help from local communities in European countries, the success of the construction of the Health Silk Road in Europe is largely due to improved connections in rail and air freight transport under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
FAST-DEVELOPING TRANSPORT TIES
So far, China has brought medical supplies and aid to over 150 countries, organized thematic video conferences between Chinese health experts and their counterparts in more than 180 countries, and sent 33 medical teams to 31 countries badly in need.
Within weeks after the first batch of assistance to Europe arrived in Rome, two teams of medical experts landed in Milan together with tons of medical supplies, setting the stage for cooperation in coping with COVID-19.
Millions of masks and medical equipment were donated by the Alibaba Foundation and the Jack Ma Foundation, of which a significant part ended up in Italy.
Soon, China spread the solidarity shown to Italy -- a country that last year became the first among G7 to sign a memorandum of understanding on the BRI -- across the whole continent.
The donations from the Chinese government, companies as well as local Chinese community started arriving in Spain as early as March 17, which had the second-highest number of COVID-19 infections in Europe, after Italy.
Millions of masks, protective suits, medical goggles, and testing kits soon reached other countries, such as Poland, Bulgaria and Serbia, with diverse slogans bringing hope to local people -- "Love knows no border," " Love Stretching Thousands of Miles is Stronger than Stone," "Unity Makes Strength," and "Steel Friends Share Both Good and Bad Times."
Among the greatest beneficiaries of the Health Silk Road was Serbia.
The Chinese medical team to Serbia arrived on March 21, and in the next two months toured across over 20,000 km to visit medical institutions, talked to their counterparts, shared experience and recommended measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.
Besides, in partnership with China's BGI Group, Serbia built two Fire Eye testing labs with a capacity of testing 3,000 samples per day.
Moreover, the "17+1" cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries has been expanded to the field of health, enabling these countries to partake in conferences with Chinese experts and learn more about COVID-19.
Such exchanges in supplies and knowledge in the face of the raging pandemic would be impossible without the fast-developing ties between China and Europe in past years, especially in the field of transport.
HEALTH SILK ROAD
China-Europe air bridge played an extensive role in the early response to the raging coronavirus outbreak, while rail freight transport later helped to compensate for the standstill in global air transport, and secured a steady supply of medical equipment to Europe.
The logistics behind delivering such large shipments relied on the existing air transport lines with China within Alibaba's electronic World Trade Platform (eWTP) hub at the Liege airport in Belgium, which soon became a key logistics hub in the fight against the epidemic in Europe, taking donations of medical supplies to countries including France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, Sweden and Switzerland.
"The Alibaba Foundation and the Jack Ma Foundation were able to activate this logistics network quickly and efficiently at the beginning of the crisis to deliver urgently-needed donations of PPE (personal protective equipment)," said Michel Kempeneers, chief operating officer of Overseas Export-Investment at Wallonia Export-Investment Agency, adding it was a determining factor in World Health Organization's choice to place Liege on the map of the world's emergency relief hubs.
In a similar way, Alibaba's eWTP global hubs have played a significant role in distributing urgently-needed medical supplies across the world, and will continue their efforts in assisting economic recovery in the coming days, the company announced.
"As countries gradually emerge from the crisis, our eWTP hubs will pivot towards supporting global trade, with a focus on using technology to assist SMEs (small and mid-size enterprises), in order to assist with the economic recovery," said James Song, secretary general of the Globalization Office of Alibaba Group.
When air transport could no longer meet the demand of Europe for medical supplies, rail freight transport lines were expanded to ensure continuity in shipments.
In mid-April, a new China-Europe rail freight transport connection was established in order to meet the rising demand for international parcel delivery amid the COVID-19 pandemic, connecting China and Lithuania.
The first train of the new service with much-needed medical supplies arrived from China's southwest Chongqing municipality on April 12 in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, and 42 containers of parcels were distributed to many European countries.
Lithuanian Minister of Transport and Communications Jaroslav Narkevic said at the time that the country engages in closer cooperation with China during the difficult pandemic period, and the new railway connection "will bring new impetus for further strengthening of a versatile partnership of Lithuania and China."
Since the new line was launched, it has brought thousands of tons of medical equipment, as well as consumer goods to most European countries, helping the fight against the pandemic and promoting multilateral trade exchange and cooperation between regions of southern China and countries and regions along the route.
Michael Schumann, board chairman of Germany's Federal Association for Economic Development and Foreign Trade, told Xinhua in a written interview that the freight train connections "created and improved by the BRI have played a positive role in securing certain supplies at the start of the corona pandemic."
"The supply of important protective devices and medical equipment from China reached many European countries quickly and easily that way," he said, noting that the BRI can make an important contribution to developing alternative transport routes in the future, which is key to preventing a transport standstill.
During a welcome ceremony of the train from Wuhan in German city of Duisburg, State Transport Minister Hendrik Wuest said the supplies transported from China by rail, especially medical ones, are of great significance for the steady restoration of normalcy, as people in Germany are also suffering from COVID-19.
Moreover, for Erich Staake, chief executive officer of German logistics company Duisburger Hafen AG, the China-Europe freight train has also helped further promote cooperation in the logistics and the economic development of both sides.
Now, during the upcoming post-pandemic era, China's Health Silk Road not only continues to play a key role in helping Europe combat the coronavirus outbreak, its improved transport and logistics capacities have also promised more rapid development of both sides, so as to facilitate global economic recovery. Enditem