China will send 2.2 million masks and 50,000 testing kits to the EU to cope with the spread of coronavirus, reciprocating similar assistance Europe provided Beijing when it was at the centre of the pandemic.

The support from China is timely as the European Union has been unable to source face masks and protective goggles in a joint procurement effort launched earlier this month.

“China has not forgotten that in January when China was the centre of the virus outbreak the European Union helped,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a video message on Twitter, recalling that the EU donated 50 tonnes of protective equipment that month.

“Today we are the centre of the coronavirus pandemic and we need protective equipment ourselves. We are ranking up our production … but this needs several weeks and in the meantime we are grateful for support from China.”

Von der Leyen said she had spoken to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who said China could ship 200,000 N95 masks, two million surgical masks and 50,000 testing kits to Europe immediately.

Manufacturers, mostly based in China and other Asian countries, face soaring demand from all over the world.

In a move aimed at preventing possible shortages, the Commission said it had persuaded France and Germany to lift export restrictions they imposed on protective gear produced by manufacturers based in their territories.