French government orders ‘250 million masks’ against coronavirus

French Health Minister Olivier Véran holds a news conference on Saturday March 21, 2020, to alleviate concerns about the availability of protective masks for health workers and those most at risk from infection by the coronavirus in France.
French Health Minister Olivier Véran holds a news conference on Saturday March 21, 2020, to alleviate concerns about the availability of protective masks for health workers and those most at risk from infection by the coronavirus in France. © FRANCE 24 screengrab
4 min

French Health Minister Olivier Véran announced on Saturday that the government ordered “250 million masks” to help fight the coronavirus outbreak in France, where 6,172 patients have been hospitalised for COVID-19 and 562 have died.

Advertising

Véran made the announcement at a news conference Saturday afternoon to address widespread concerns about the shortages of health masks used to protect frontline medical staff and those most at risk of infection from the coronavirus.

"There is an issue on everyone's minds, that of protective masks and equipment," Véran said.

"I understand the urgency of giving masks to those who care for us and those who are sick," he continued. "My responsibility as minister is to do everything to ensure that they can be delivered over time. However, although I know how long the stocks can last, I don't know how long the epidemic will last." 

France is currently contending with a serious shortage of FFP2 health masks, the most effective in protecting against the coronavirus.

Véran fielded a number of questions on the lack of available masks in France and condemned recent incidents in which people had broken into emergency vehicles and stolen supplies of protective medical equipment

Alternative prototypes

In response to the shortages, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Saturday announced the government had instructed manufacturers and researchers to work on developing alternative prototypes to protect health workers and the population from the spread of the coronavirus.

"We have asked the Ministry of the Economy and the Ministry of Defense to find alternatives, more precisely to engage in a wide range of industrial activities and research, either to multiply the production lines or to come up with alternatives, disposable or reusable," Philippe told the National Assembly.

According to the Directorate General of Health, France has a production capacity of six million masks per week.

Healthcare staff in hospitals say they are in urgent need of FFP2 health masks, which are considered to be much more protective than surgical masks.

"The public authorities and all those involved in the national production network should join forces to provide the 15 million FFP2 masks we need every day," wrote several doctors and other surgery personnel in a press release.

"Our country is counting on us to face this pandemic, but it is unacceptable to make us take ill-considered risks because under our coats, we are still human beings, as vulnerable as anyone else," they added.

LVMH orders 40 million masks

Several companies have already donated masks to the government.

French luxury label LVMH on Saturday announced it had ordered 40 million health masks from a Chinese supplier to help France cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

The first order of 10 million masks is expected in coming days and will be handed to the French health services for distribution.

The rest of the order, on which LVMH cooperated with the French government, will be funded by the state and should be delivered in coming weeks.

Owned by France's richest man Bernard Arnault, LVMH, the company behind Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior, is already producing and delivering free-of-charge hand sanitiser to French hospitals.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning