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Coronavirus: Algeria gets help against pandemic from trade partner China

Although France has maintained close relationship with former colony, it has lost out to China in recent years as Algeria's main commercial partner
Chinese labourers work in Algiers in 2015 at construction site of major mosque (AFP/file photo)

As Algeria on Saturday extended its curfew across most of the rest of the country, it found a helping hand in China, the top exporter to Africa's biggest nation.

An Air Algerie plane arrived in the capital Algiers from Beijing in late March carrying a 13-member Chinese medical team and equipment, including respirators, AFP reported.

The supplies were donated by the state-owned China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCEC) on behalf of Beijing to help Algeria battle its Covid-19 outbreak.

With 1,251 officially declared cases, including 130 deaths, Algeria is worse hit than its North African neighbours Tunisia and Morocco, and its health sector is in dire need of improvement.

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The government extended its curfew - until now in place only in the capital and 13 of Algeria's 48 provinces - across the rest of the country except for the two southernmost provinces, which are almost entirely desert and have no confirmed cases, Reuters reported.

China, where the novel coronavirus first emerged in December, has been helping other countries fight the disease, offering masks, experts and equipment.

Algeria, with a population of more than 40 million, has placed orders with China for 100 million face masks and 30,000 testing kits, as well as protective medical clothing and other equipment.

China is also expected to build a small hospital in the North African country to provide preventive care for roughly 5,000 Algerians and 4,000 Chinese employed by CSCEC, official Chinese media reported, without providing further details.

Chinese nationals make up the largest group of expatriates in Algeria, estimated at several tens of thousands of people.

Most of them are employed on big construction sites as the company is behind multiple infrastructure projects across Africa, operating from its base in Algeria.

"Algeria has special ties with China," Smail Debeche, a professor of international relations at the University of Algiers, told AFP.

These ties "go back to the war of liberation", he said, referring to the decades-long war led by the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) that led to Algeria's independence from colonial power France in 1962.

China was the first non-Arab country to recognise Algeria's provisional government when it was established in 1958.

Algeria has returned the favour by supporting Beijing at the United Nations.

Although France has maintained a close relationship with its former colony, it has lost out to China in recent years as Algeria's main commercial partner.

The central Chinese province of Hubei is now globally known as the cradle of the Covid-19 pandemic, but in Algeria, it has long been at the forefront of medical cooperation.

Since 1963, more than 3,000 Chinese health workers from Hubei have provided services free of charge in Algeria as part of a permanent medical mission, working in the fields of obstetrics, traditional medicine and surgery, according to Algeria's health ministry.

Beyond health care, China has invested in oil refineries across Algeria and has built roads and railways.

In January 2020, China exported goods worth about $560m to Algeria - more than 18 percent of the country's total imports - according to Algeria's customs department.