Updated: Huge shipment of donated COVID-19 test kits, masks moves through Memphis

By , Daily Memphian Updated: March 18, 2020 4:18 PM CT | Published: March 17, 2020 2:04 PM CT

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FedEx and Memphis International Airport are playing a key role in shipments of coronavirus test kits and supplies.

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s donation of test kits and masks was flown into Memphis, where FedEx provided ground support including customs clearance, sources said. It was destined for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Ma, founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, donated 500,000 coronavirus test kits and 1 million masks to help America cope with the epidemic. Coronavirus or COVID-19 originated in China but is believed to be past its peak there.

A Food and Drug Administration spokeswoman said Wednesday the FDA was working with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response to evaluate the tests donated by Ma “to determine if they are accurate and reliable and can be used on equipment available in the U.S.”

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On Monday, President Trump’s director of trade and manufacturing policy Peter Navarro told CNBC that he turned to FedEx for help moving a shipment of a million coronavirus swabs from Europe to distribution points in the United States.

Navarro said a military plane was bringing 59 pallets of swabs from Europe, but the U.S. government needed help routing the supplies to Athens, Ohio, Cranbury, New Jersey, and two locations in California.

“I called up the CEO of FedEx, he picked up on the first ring, I said, “Fred we’ve got a problem, can you get me a couple of planes to get these things to the people where we need them in Trump time?” He said ‘sure,’” Navarro told CNBC. He was referring to FedEx chairman and chief executive officer Frederick W. Smith.

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A China Air cargo plane landed at Memphis International within the last couple days, but the airport had no further information.

Reuters reported that the first shipment donated by Ma landed in the U.S. Monday morning.

The kits and masks were produced by Chinese factories as they have resumed production following a virus-related shutdown in January and February.

Ma tweeted about the first shipment, saying, “The first shipment of masks and coronavirus test kits to the US is taking off from Shanghai. All the best to our friends in America.”


Lack of testing kits has hindered U.S. efforts to stop the virus’ spread.

The Jack Ma Foundation also said a second shipment of supplies would depend on availability.

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The shipment from China is a turnabout, since aid organizations in the U.S. rushed relief supplies to China after the outbreak began there.

FedEx said in early March it had moved 10 humanitarian aid shipments of medical supplies to China this year in collaboration with Direct Relief.

FedEx Corp. president and chief operating officer Raj Subramaniam discussed the company’s coronavirus aid during a Tuesday, March 17 earnings call.

“In addition to our extensive relief efforts in China over the last few months we are providing support within the United States, including the delivery of test kits, masks, gloves and personal protective equipment to hospitals, labs, testing centers and homes,” Subramaniam said.

“As part of a public private partnership with many of our health care customers, we are working to rapidly deploy medical supplies to labs and clinics nationwide,” he said.

“For example, over the weekend, we worked with Roche Diagnostics to deliver critical product to testing labs across the United States. This is just one of many Herculean efforts underway. Time is of the essence when getting test kits and medical supplies to health care providers to flatten this curve, contain the virus and save lives, and our team members are working around the clock in response to this global pandemic,” Subramaniam added.

Peter Navarro’s title was wrong in an earlier version of this story.


Jack Ma coronavirus FedEx
Wayne Risher

Wayne Risher

Business news reporter, 43-year veteran of print journalism, 35-year resident of Memphis, University of Georgia alumnus and proud father and spouse of University of Memphis graduates.


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