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Brazil turns to local industry to build ventilators as China purchases fall through

Credit: REUTERS/UESLEI MARCELINO

Brazil's health minister said on Wednesday that the country's attempts to purchase thousands of ventilators from China to fight a growing coronavirus epidemic had fallen through and the government is now hoping Brazilian companies can supply the devices.

Adds comments, details of companies, plane arriving with 6 million masks

BRASILIA, April 8 (Reuters) - Brazil's health minister said on Wednesday that the country's attempts to purchase thousands of ventilators from China to fight a growing coronavirus epidemic had fallen through and the government is now hoping Brazilian companies can supply the devices.

"Practically all our purchases of equipment in China are not being confirmed," Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta said at a news conference.

An attempt to buy 15,000 ventilators in China did not go through and Brazil was making a new bid, he said, but the outcome is uncertain in the intense competition for medical supplies in the global pandemic.

In one positive sign for Brazil's supply crunch, a private company managed to buy 40 tonnes of protective masks from China, with the shipment arriving by cargo plane in Brasilia on Wednesday.

The shipment of 6 million masks worth 160 million reais ($30 million) was undertaken by pharmaceutical and hospital equipment company Nutriex, based in Goiania, 220 kilometers east of Brasilia. The firm plans to donate part of the order.

Health authorities began to sound the alarm this week over supply shortages as hospitals faced growing numbers of patients with COVID-19.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country soared to 15,927 on Wednesday, with the death toll rising by 133 in just 24 hours to 800, the ministry said.

Mandetta reported the first case of coronavirus among the Yanomami people on the country's largest reservation and said the government plans to build a field hospital for indigenous tribes that are vulnerable to contagion.

"We are extremely concerned about the indigenous communities," Mandetta said.

Anthropologists and health experts warn that the epidemic can have a devastating impact on Brazil's 850,000 indigenous people whose lifestyle in tribal villages rules out social distancing.

Mandetta said Brazil has hired local unlisted medical equipment maker Magnamed to make 6,000 ventilators in 90 days.

Pulp and paper companies Suzano SA SUZB3.SA and Klabin SA KLBN4.SA, planemaker Embraer SA EMBR3.SA, information technology provider Positivo Tecnologia SA POSI3.SA and automaker Fiat Chrysler FCHA.MI have also offered to help build ventilators, he said.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

((anthony.boadle@tr.com +55 61 98204-1110; https://twitter.com/anthonyboadle;))

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