Hogan Lovells recently helped the Kraft Group and the NFL’s New England Patriots secure the necessary government approvals so the team could use its plane to pick up 1.3 million N95 masks from Shenzhen, China and deliver them to Massachusetts where protective gear is in demand in the fight against Covid-19.
A cross-practice team of the firm’s lawyers and staff worked around the clock for over a week to obtain the visas and paperwork needed to get the flight crew in and out of China for the delivery, as part of an effort to help combat the coronavirus pandemic.
As of April 1, the Massachusetts Department of Health had confirmed more than 7,500 Covid-19 cases and 122 deaths in the state. Hospitals in Massachusetts, particularly those in the Boston area, have been asking for additional masks and other protective equipment since at least mid-March.
The Hogan Lovells pro bono effort began on March 24, when Washington-based Hogan Lovells partner Amy Roma overheard a call about the masks between her husband, a security consultant, and a Patriots executive. From what Roma could hear, the team needed access to the U.S. State Department.
“Because we’re all stuck at home, I just happened to be next to him,” said Roma, who led the pro bono effort. She quickly learned that the Patriots needed a letter from the State Department to the Chinese government guaranteeing that the masks would be used for humanitarian efforts. “I offered to have Hogan Lovells help, and it just spiraled from there.”
Over the course of the next week, Roma and other lawyers and staff at the firm worked around the clock with the Patriots and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to navigate the web of U.S. and Chinese authorizations needed to move the masks. The team worked closely with Roy Zou, managing partner of the Hogan Lovells Beijing office in pulling off the project.
Among other things, Hogan Lovells coordinated with the U.S. and Chinese governments for expedited flight permit and landing rights requests. The pro bono team also needed to make sure that the N95 masks would comply with what Roma called “ever-changing” Food and Drug Administration requirements.
“We had been getting reports all over the country that customs was seizing PPE left and right,” she said.
Then, on Saturday, March 28, the team hit a major roadblock: The Chinese government wouldn’t be waiving the visa requirements for the plane’s flight crew, and the plane was set to fly to China the following day.
While the Patriots flight crew was on its way from around the country to Ohio, the departure location for the flight, Hogan Lovells attorneys and paralegals got to work. They filled out visa applications for each individual on the plane, and Roma found an address for a local CVS pharmacy that would make passport photos on Saturday night.
With the help of colleagues in Beijing, Roma and her team convinced the Chinese embassy in New York to open on Sunday. On Sunday morning, a member of the Massachusetts National Guard flew from Massachusetts to Ohio, picked up the visa applications, brought them to New York for expedited processing, and brought them back to Ohio so the crew could take off later that day.
When the plane finally arrived in China, the crew had a loading window of just three hours to get all 1.3 million masks on board.
“The entire operation was like a movie, from start to finish,” said Roma.
The delivery cleared U.S. Customs in Alaska on April 2 and was set to arrive in Massachusetts late on Thursday afternoon.
Patriots owner and Kraft Group CEO Robert Kraft also bought 300,000 of the masks to donate to the state of New York, the current epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in the U.S. As of April 1, New York had nearly 84,000 confirmed cases of the virus. The masks are scheduled to be delivered to New York City on Friday.
“Supply chains around the world are shut down and bottlenecked with bureaucracy, fear and in some instances, commercial priorities over human,” Kraft said in a statement. “Hogan Lovells tore through the bureaucracy with their knowledge and skill around international trade and truly worked 24/7 to make sure this mission was accomplished.”