In March, a large shipment of thousands of masks, gloves, overalls and goggles arrived in Birmingham. Stapled to the side of each of the crates was a quote, in both Chinese and English, attributed to William Shakespeare: ‘He that is thy friend indeed, he will help thee in thy need.’ (“岁寒知松柏，患难见真情.”) This consignment was one of many from Chinese universities to their partner institutions in the UK. In this case, the First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University sent this shipment to their long standing partner, the University of Birmingham.
Minister Sharma spoke at the First Affiliated Hospital, Sun Yat-sen University in 2017
The importance of partnerships comes the fore in times of crisis. As the scale of the COVID-19 crisis in the UK became apparent in March, we started to receive generous offers of donations from a number of hospitals, universities and companies that we work with in South China, wanting to contribute thousands of items of personal protective equipment (PPE) to support their UK partners during these challenging times.
To make this happen, we drew upon our resources and contacts to facilitate the process. We worked together with DIT healthcare team, Embassy donation team and universities’ international offices on introducing qualified manufacturers, identifying contact points of beneficiaries, providing advice on customs procedures and troubleshooting problems with the courier service.
As a result, universities and hospitals in Birmingham, Derby and Oxford received thousands of items of much-needed PPE in early April. These kind donations are now not only protecting the front-line NHS staff and researchers while treating patients and doing research projects, but are also giving vital support to the wider community, including local elderly care homes and fire stations.
I shared the photo of the shipment on my social media account, and the reaction from my contacts told its own story: ‘In times of need, good friends are never apart’, ‘UK and Chinese researchers always stand together ’, ‘Under difficult circumstances, we must strengthen cooperation’.
I often think that the work we do building people-to-people and institution-to-institution science links between the UK and China is hugely valuable, and this is one example of its real world impact. In these difficult times, it is more important than ever to build on the good will between people and countries.