With more than 6,400 cases of people infected with COVID-19, Portugal is, like many other countries in Europe and all over the world, scrambling to bolster its hospitals with critical medical supplies. Ventilators, which save lives by helping infected patients to breathe, have become especially difficult to obtain. Last week, an order from Portugal for 500 Chinese ventilators was threatened by an offer from another country but was saved “in extremis” by BNU Macau.
According to a source at BNU, the Portuguese government was informed by the Chinese supplier on Sunday, March 22, that if the previously agreed payment of US$10 million (MOP 80.26 million) was not made in full by 10 a.m. Beijing time the next day, the order of 500 ventilators would be cancelled and the equipment sold elsewhere.
With banks closed in Portugal until Monday morning, already after the deadline set by the supplier, it seemed virtually impossible to prevent the cancellation of this order. Various solutions were considered between the government, the state credit agency (IGCP) and the state-owned Bank Caixa Geral de Depositos (CGD). The decision was then made to advance payment through CGD’s bank in Macau, Banco Nacional Ultramarino (BNU).
That same afternoon in Portugal, already after 1 a.m. in Macau, CGD President Paulo Macedo called BNU CEO Carlos Cid Álvares to ask for the bank’s assistance with the advance payment by the state-owned bank, which was immediately agreed. The payment coordinates were sent directly to Cid Álvares. The operation was being closely followed at the highest level in Portugal – the government, CGD’s top management and IGCP, which manages state financing.
At 8:30 a.m. the next day, as banking operations resumed in BNU’s operations floor in Macau, 90 minutes before the deadline set by the Chinese manufacturer, a team was already in place to immediately ensure payment.
According to BNU sources, confirmation swifts of the transfer were quickly issued and ready about 60 minutes before the deadline. “It was a joint [IGCP, CGD and BNU] effort and we had to cut through bureaucracy to make this happen”, a source a the Macau bank added. IGCP later funded the operation.
Newspaper Publico, which initially reported the story in Portugal, added that these confirmation codes were sent to the Portuguese embassy in Beijing, ensuring the manufacturer received them ahead of the deadline.
The 500 ventilators are now being shipped to Portugal, to hospitals which are in dire need of them, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the country are expected to peak in the next 30 days.