U.S. emergency officials say ventilators sent to the United States by Russia to help treat COVID-19 patients are the same model that reportedly caused two deadly fires in Russian hospitals.
Early on May 13, Russia's health-care regulator, Roszdravnadzor, said it had suspended usage of the devices, produced by the Urals Instrument-Engineering Plant near the city of Yekaterinburg, which had recently increased its output tenfold to accommodate a state order for 5,700 ventilator units.
The devices were never deployed to U.S. hospitals and are being returned to the federal government “out of an abundance of caution," U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spokeswoman Janet Montesi said in a statement late on May 12.
The machines were delivered to New York and New Jersey, the U.S. states hardest hit by the coronavirus, but "the flattening curve meant these ventilators were not needed," Montesi added.
Roszdravnadzor began checking the devices, which are widely used for treating serious COVID-19 cases, for quality and safety standards after ventilation units installed in hospitals were suspected of being the cause of fires that killed at least six COVID-19 patients in St. Petersburg and the Moscow area.
"The federal health-care control service has suspended the usage on Russia's territory of Aventa-M artificial lung-ventilation devices...produced by the Urals Instrument-Engineering Plant," a Roszdravnadzor statement said, adding that such units were used in the Spasokukotsky Hospital in Moscow and St. George Hospital in St. Petersburg, where the fires occurred on May 9 and May 12, respectively.
The ventilators that arrived in the United States were on a Russian plane carrying medical supplies to help fight the coronavirus outbreak. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the supplies had been purchased but did not say how much the United States paid.
Ortagus described the purchase as a “follow-up” to a phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin on March 30 as New York was experiencing a severe outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Trump said Putin offered the equipment and that he considered it a “very nice gesture.”
The arrival of the shipment, which Moscow described as “aid,” immediately raised questions over the motives behind the move and whether Putin would use it as a public relations coup.