Coronavirus: French Government Seizes All Stocks of Face Masks, Thousands Stolen From Hospitals

Frances President Emmanuel Macron attends a Defence Council at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, on March 4, 2020. - Early on March 4, 2020, France has confirmed over 200 cases of the virus and 4 deaths. (Photo by Thibault Camus / POOL / AFP) (Photo by THIBAULT CAMUS/POOL/AFP via Getty …
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French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the seizure of all stocks and future production of medical face masks in the face of a growing threat from Coronavirus, and a spate of looting of masks from medical facilities.

The China-origin Coronavirus, which has already killed a known 3,190 people worldwide is becoming more established in Europe, with worst-impacted nation Italy’s death toll standing at 79. Neighbouring France has seen a comparatively modest four deaths, but the French government hasn’t baulked at launching a series of sweeping measures under the guise of public health.

In what may come as a surprise move, the French President Emmanuel Macron — who remains in a perpetual state of battling poor public ratings over his deeply controversial reforming policies — announced Tuesday the government was to requisition all stocks of face masks in the country, and was to seize all future stocks as they were produced. The government had previously asked the public to not buy masks unless they were in a group that needed them, but the instruction seems to have been avoided.

President Macron told a gathering of top health officials in a “crisis cell” at the so-called Minister for Solidarity and Health that he was announcing “the mobilisation of the whole country to fight against this epidemic.”

Reuters reported he had also “signed a decree” to make the seizure of face masks law.

The Associated Press reports the requisitioning is to prevent hoarding, which it claimed is “starting to become a problem”, and to ensure the masks could be given to health workers and infected members of the public.

The move came as reports emerged of thousands of masks being stolen from hospitals in France, presumably for resale on the black market. Agence France Presse reports a hospital in Marseille has seen 2,000 surgical masks stolen, while a Paris health authority said over 8,000 masks and 1,200 bottles of alcohol hand gel had been taken.

AFP reports the thefts followed similar looting in Japan, where 6,000 masks were stolen from a Kobe hospital.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for action to be taken to stop hoarding of medical supplies, which is says is putting healthcare workers at risk. Speaking Tuesday, WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said of the increasing shortages: “Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first.”

A WHO report said since the start of the Coronavirus outbreak, the prices of face masks had increased sixfold, and that: “Supplies can take months to deliver and market manipulation is widespread, with stocks frequently sold to the highest bidder.”

With global healthcare demand for masks now standing at 89 million a month, industry producing them would have to boost output by 40 per cent, the WHO said.

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