The first in a series of Aerolíneas Argentina planes sent to China to pick up medical supplies has returned to Buenos Aires.
More than 13 tons of medical equipment – including face masks and protective glasses – were collected in Shanghai during a three-day round-trip, which ended at Ezeiza International Airport on Friday. Argentina's flagship carrier provided a crew of 17 people for the trip – pilots and crew were unable to depart the plane at any time.
The supplies are destined for hospitals and clinics in Buenos Aires Province, the country's most-populous region, with more than 16 million inhabitants. It is one of most hard-hit areas from the coronavirus in Argentina.
Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof was on hand to welcome back the flight and its crew.
"The plane brought a million surgical barbijos [masks], 150,000 special barbijos and 120,000 goggles [protective glasses], among other materials," said the Frente de Todos governor at a press conference.
President Alberto Fernández later offered his thanks to the pilots and flight crew, describing them as a source of price for Argentines.
"Today the first flight of Aerolíneas Argentinas returned from China with medical supplies and resources for the health and care of Covid-19," the head of state wrote on his account on Twitter, accompanied by a video of the trip. "Our gratitude to the staff of our flagship carrier for their commitment and solidarity is infinite. They are a source of pride for us all."
A second flight, the latest in the series, has already departed for Shanghai, officials confirmed.
The aircraft used for the trip was an Airbus 330-200, the cabin and hold of which was repurposed for the trip.
"We had a total of 60 hours of flight-time with round-trip stops in Auckland, New Zealand," said one of the pilots, Fernando Carreras.
The head of the APLA pilots union, Pablo Biró, said that "none of the 12 pilots" involved had flown more than 16 hours at a time," which he said was an unusually long time.
He expressed great pride at having been part of the team and praised his colleagues.
"Aerolíneas is not just a mere company," he said, "it is a part of us."
More than 2,700 people In Argentina are confirmed as having had Covid-19 and 129 fatalities have been recorded since the first case was reported on March 4.
Mandatory social isolation has been in force throughout the country since March 20, with the exception of essential service workers.
More than 2,250,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, with 154,188 deaths, according to a count made by AFP based on official sources.