In his public rhetoric Donald Trump has been talking up the domestic private sector response to the crisis.
“We should never be reliant on a foreign country for the means of our own survival,” Trump said at a White House briefing on Tuesday evening. “America will never be a supplicant nation.”
However behind the scenes, the administration has approached European and Asian partners to secure supplies of testing kits and other medical equipment that are in desperately short supply in the US.
On Tuesday, Trump spoke by phone with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, asking if his country could supply medical equipment.The official White House account made no mention of the request, but according to the South Korean presidency, the Blue House, the call was made at Trump’s “urgent request”.
Foreign Policy reported that the third-ranking diplomat in the state department, David Hale, had asked for a list of countries that might be able to sell “critical medical supplies and equipment” to the US.
On March 18, the Defense One military news site reported that the US air force had quietly flown half a million nasal swabs from Italy to Memphis, where they were distributed around the country.
On 15 March, German officials said they had fended off a Trump administration offer to buy exclusive access to a potential vaccine being developed by a German company, CureVac.
The US is by far the largest buyer of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies from China, and is seeking to import Chinese face masks and protective gear, but negotiations have been complicated by growing acrimony between the two countries, over what Trump has insisted until very recently on calling the “China virus”.