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Coronavirus: New England Patriots send private plane to China to collect 1.2 million masks

As the US scrambles to obtain the supplies it needs to fight the coronavirus epidemic, the New England Patriots have stepped up to help. The team, one of the oldest in professional American Football, has sent its team plane to China to bring home more than a million N95 masks.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the mission was given the go-ahead only after a painstakingly complex series of negotiations; in the end, the plane was permitted three hours on the ground in China to be loaded by ground crew.

The state's governor, Charlie Baker, tweeted his thanks to the team's CEO, Bob Kraft, for assigning the plane to its mission: "No days off. Thanks to some serious teamwork, Massachusetts is set to receive over 1 million N95 masks for our front-line workers. Huge thanks to the Krafts and several dedicated partners for making this happen."

The masks are intended to help protect medical staff in the team's home state of Massachusetts, which has lately seen its death rate double to 122 in just two days. As the state prepares to cope with the surge in cases, a field hospital has been set up in Worcester; a convention centre in South Boston is reportedly being considered as another site.

A shortage of protective equipment for medics has become a national problem as the US's coronavirus outbreak explodes. New York mayor Bill de Blasio has said that his city, the national epicentre of the outbreak, needs 3.3 million N95 masks by the end of the week to curb the surge in new cases.

The US government is rushing to secure all the supplies it can, and to make sure that its sourcing efforts are co-ordinated. An official recently put in a request to the Thai government to see if it could send some masks, only to be told that Thailand was anticipating a shipment from the US.

The issue is also becoming highly politicised. The 2020 Trump campaign recently sent out a tweet blaming Joe Biden for the mask shortage, despite the fact that he himself had no role in the Obama administration's pandemic preparation efforts.

In a video statement, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick sought to reassure fans and other viewers that "I and the New England Patriots are behind you. We are all in this together". Stressing that "we are facing a difficult opponent" in a fight that demands everybody stay at home as long as necessary, Mr Belichick called for solidarity.

"There are plenty of things we cannot do right now, but let's focus on what we can do. We can adapt, we can adjust, and we can make better decisions right now for the betterment of the future. As I tell our team, let's keep stringing good days together and we will get through this."

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