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COVID-19: Medical masks still in shortage in France

Medical community faces unforeseen challenges as coronavirus takes hold, medical masks in short supply

Cindi Cook   | 19.03.2020
COVID-19: Medical masks still in shortage in France

PARIS 

Outcry is real, not only in the north of France, or the Mulhouse region, hit hard by the new coronavirus, but throughout the continent as all-important medical masks remain in short supply in hospitals and medical facilities.

And in just about the oddest twist of fate yet, Jean-Paul Hamon, the president of the Federation of Doctors of France, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19.

The 73-year-old physician is presently in quarantine, and remains adamant that this is a problem bigger than just the supply of medical masks.

"I want a commission of inquiry to find out how we could leave France unprotected. I hope the government has understood the importance of a working health system," said Hamon.

The masks needed are known as FFP2, a duck-shaped mask with a built-in filtration system that provides the best protection against infection, much more than a simple surgical shield made of cotton.

On Thursday, France's Armed Forces delivered 5 million masks to the Solidarity and Health Ministry for distribution, confirmed Olivier Veran, the minister, in a discussion today in the National Assembly.

Veran also confirmed a recent shipment of 30 million masks to medical personnel throughout France, but said it would be enough for only three days.

A total of 981 FFP2 masks were also seized by police on Wednesday from a pharmacy in 16th arrondissement of Paris. The pharmacy was selling the masks for €10 ($10.69) a piece to anyone who would buy them.

As of a decree laid down on March 13, it is prohibited to sell the FFP2 masks to anyone but caregivers or the sick. The police took the masks and redistributed them to medical facilities and caregivers.

The German government has stepped in to help with an order of 1 million surgical masks and the ordering of €163 million worth of medical supplies, including gowns, protective suits, gloves, and other preventive supplies to send to Italy.

The decision comes from German Health Minister Jens Spahn.

Nearly 1,700 healthcare workers in Italy have been infected to date from exposure. Masks and other medical supplies are prohibited from leaving the country without proper authorization.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, has said many high-level hospitals in Italy are overwhelmed, and doctors often have to wear the same mask for 12 hours a day.

China makes half the world's medical masks, and since the outbreak, production has risen 12 times. The Chinese government reports that production went from 10 million at the beginning of February to 115 million by the end of the month.

Since the country's own ease in the number of cases, China is now filling orders for multiple countries, sending five million masks to Korea and two million to Italy.

China is also seeing fit to ship masks abroad as part of Goodwill packages, shipping 200,000 to Iran and 250,000 to the Philippines.

COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China last December, and has spread to at least 159 countries and territories. The WHO declared the outbreak a pandemic.

Out of more than 229,000 confirmed cases, the death toll now exceeds 9,300, and over 84,500 have recovered, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the U.S.

Despite the rising number of cases, most who become infected suffer only mild symptoms and recover.

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