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Harbin sends support as Sunderland battles Covid crisis

Sunderland’s partner city in China is extending a hand of friendship, as the UK battles the Covid-19 pandemic.

The mayor of Harbin - the capital of Heilongjiang, China’s northernmost province - has written to the leader of Sunderland City Council to offer the city’s full support in the fight against Coronavirus.  In a letter to Councillor Graeme Miller, Mr Sun Zhe – who was appointed as mayor in 2018 – said Harbin would be keeping Sunderland in its thoughts as the UK enters its fourth week of the pandemic. 

The mayor also offered to supply much-needed PPE to help front-line staff in Sunderland safely care for Covid-19 patients.

Mr Sun – whose city signed its friendship agreement with Sunderland in 2009 – has instructed his team to work with Sunderland City Council in order to make arrangements for supplies of PPE to be sent at the soonest opportunity, as Harbin emerges from its own health crisis and begins to resume normal life. 

Cllr Miller, who responded to Mr Sun’s letter to thank him for the support, said: “China was of course the first country to be hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, so Harbin has been through the horror of Coronavirus and emerged from it – just as Sunderland will. 

“Our cities share a special friendship, and it is so important that we are able to support one another, particularly at difficult moments like this – the letter was therefore very welcome, and it means a great deal to know that the people of Harbin stand in solidarity with us as we fight this battle. 

“The offer of PPE is – at a very practical level - hugely appreciated, as it will protect those who are putting their own health and wellbeing at stake in order to help others.  I’m incredibly grateful to Mr Sun and the city of Harbin for their kindness and support during this time.“

Sunderland’s Friendship Agreement with Harbin has seen the two cities work together on a range of projects in order to foster economic growth, as well as delivering a range of projects to link schools and improve education in both areas. 

The agreement has also fostered a health partnership between the two cities. As a result of Cllr Miller’s meetings with British Embassy colleagues during a visit to China last year, Sunderland and Harbin delivered a partnership project, supported by the British Embassy Beijing’s International Programme.  This project brought together the City Council and Public Health colleagues, Sunderland Royal Hospital and the University of Sunderland alongside the Harbin Health Bureau and Harbin Hospital No. 1.  A delegation visited Sunderland as part of the project to share good practice last November.  Both partners signed a Memorandum of Understanding, with a commitment to share knowledge and best-practice on a range of clinical areas including diabetes care, cardiovascular health and dementia as well as cross-cutting themes such as digital healthcare.

Councillor Miller added: “It’s during times of strife that we can really see the value of community – at a very local level and at an international-level - and the strong global network we have established, and the trusting relationships we share as a result, means we have a great deal of support, goodwill and in this case, very practical help, from our friends around the world.  We’re incredibly grateful.”