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A nurse in blue protective gear carries boxes of COVID-19 vaccine in Caracas, Venezuela.(Source:Alamy)

Manufacturers can distribute masks, diagnostics and other equipment key to the fight against COVID-19 in Iran, Syria and Venezuela, thanks to the Biden administration’s decision to temporarily lift some sanctions against the countries.

The exemptions expand current humanitarian exceptions to the sanctions and will expire in June 2022. The US Treasury Department says the move was made in response to a national security memo from President Joe Biden that directed federal agencies to review whether existing US sanctions were harming international efforts against COVID-19.

Equipment specifically protected by the new exemptions include face masks, ventilators and oxygen tanks, vaccines and tools needed for the production of vaccines, COVID-19 tests, air filtration systems, and COVID-19-related field hospitals, Treasury said. The department also released some guidelines and FAQs more specifically explaining what is and isn’t allowed.

“These new authorizations will further support the critical work of governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and private sector actors in providing COVID-19-related assistance to the people in certain sanctioned jurisdictions.” – US Treasury

“These new authorizations will further support the critical work of governments, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and private sector actors in providing COVID-19-related assistance to the people in certain sanctioned jurisdictions,” Treasury said.

Normally, organizations that want to export medical equipment to countries that are under sanction by the US need to apply to Treasury for a special exemption. When the national public health emergency began in March of last year, the department agreed to prioritize and expedite requests to send devices to Iran but kept the sanctions mostly in place. The new general licenses allow for a limited range of medical equipment to be shipped to the countries without specific permission.

Humanitarian and civil rights organizations had been asking for broader sanctions relief in light of COVID-19 for some time. On 26 March, 55 groups including Amnesty International, Veterans for Peace, CODEPINK and several religious denominations sent a letter to Biden asking for a global general license allowing export of all equipment needed to fight the pandemic. 

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