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Cuban medical brigade arrives in Italy as ministers round on EU over lack of support

A CUBAN medical brigade arrived in Italy at the weekend, the sixth such mission dispatched to assist other countries with the coronavirus pandemic.

Havana has already sent missions to Venezuela, Nicaragua, Jamaica, Suriname and Grenada, but its mission to Italy is its first ever to the much richer country.

“We are all afraid, but we have a revolutionary duty to fulfil, so we take out fear and put it to one side,” intensive care specialist Leonardo Fernandez told Reuters.

“He who says he is not afraid is a superhero, but we are not superheroes, we are revolutionary doctors.”

Chinese medical missions and planeloads of medical equipment have already been sent to Italy and yesterday Russia also responded to appeals for help by agreeing to send military medics and special disinfectant vehicles.

The aid came as Italy’s death toll from the virus rose above 4,800, with over 53,000 confirmed cases. Spain recorded another 3,600 new cases from Saturday to Sunday, bringing its total to 28,572 infections and 1,720 deaths.

The crisis has led to sharp criticism of the European Union’s lack of solidarity with affected member states. Italian and Bulgarian ministers have complained that their countries receive more help from non-EU states than from within the bloc.

A €750 billion (£690bn) bond-buying programme announced by the European Central Bank last week was not enough, Italian Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri said.

“We must have the courage to put in place a common and co-ordinated budgetary policy capable of supporting the effort of our health systems,” he pleaded.

But Bulgarian Defence Minister Krasimir Karakachanov said the crisis showed that the EU did not work for its members.

“It turns out that the only institution that works for the benefit of citizens in Europe is not the expensive European bureaucracy but the nation state,” he said, adding that the EU had not sent “a single mask. “We get help from China, from Turkey.”

In Serbia — unlike Bulgaria, not an EU member — President Aleksandar Vucic struck a similar note as he met a Chinese shipment of medical supplies arriving at the airport.

“I believe in China’s help,” he said. “European solidarity is just a fairy tale.”

In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Chinese aid was natural, given that China had also received help from more than 80 countries while its own outbreak — now largely contained — was still raging. “You throw a peach to me, and I give you a white jade for friendship,” he said, quoting from the ancient Book of Songs, a collection of poems composed between the 11th and seventh centuries BC.

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