By Natalia A. Ramos Miranda

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Chile is expecting China to donate ventilators to help cope with the coronavirus outbreak, a government official said on Sunday, contradicting earlier statements by China’s ambassador to the South American country that he was unaware of such a shipment.

Chilean Health Minister Jaime Mañalich, speaking to local radio and TV media, reaffirmed that the South American country would receive the machines from China, in line with earlier announcements by government officials that they were waiting on between 500 and 1,000 donated ventilators, critical medical equipment for treating COVID-19.

Mañalich’s comments came after China’s ambassador to Chile, Xu Bu, said he had “no information” about the donated ventilators in an interview published by Chilean paper La Tercera on Sunday.

“What (Xu) says verbatim is that he is not informed. I am not going to say a word about ventilators, the ventilators are coming,” Mañalich told Tele13 Radio.

Chile, which has the third-highest number of cases in the region, has 590 ventilators currently available, Mañalich said. The South American country’s confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 10,000 on Sunday with 133 total deaths.

Mañalich said the global rush to secure ventilators, which are in scare supply, was a “war of great powers” and that secrecy was necessary in order for countries to obtain them.

Some countries have accused the United States of outbidding or blocking shipments of medical supplies to buyers who have already signed deals. Mañalich did not say, however, the United States had interfered in Chile’s efforts to secure ventilators.

Xu acknowledged the machines were in high global demand in his comments, saying, “China has a limited capacity in the production of invasive ventilators.”

“In any case, China will make the greatest effort to help Chile,” he said.

China, as well as Chinese companies, have offered medical aid to dozens of countries, including many in Latin America. Chilean officials said in March they sought medical guidance and some supplies from China.

(Reporting by Natalia Ramos; writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)