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France to rapidly ramp up production of face masks and respirators, Macron says

French President Emmanuel Macron wearing a protective suit and a face mask visits the Kolmi-Hopen protective face masks factory,  in Saint-Barthelemy-d'Anjou near Angers, France March 31, 2020.
French President Emmanuel Macron wearing a protective suit and a face mask visits the Kolmi-Hopen protective face masks factory, in Saint-Barthelemy-d'Anjou near Angers, France March 31, 2020. © Loic Venance / Reuters

France plans to quickly ramp up domestic production of face masks and respirators to respond to urgent needs of hospitals and caregivers during the coronavirus epidemic, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday. 

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Macron said consumption of face masks in France had soared from four million per week to more than 40 million and the state's pre-crisis inventory of 140 million masks was insufficient.

"Before, we believed that we could import masks quickly and in great quantity from the other side of the world ... and that we did not need to store billions and billions of face masks," Macron said during a visit to the Kolmi-Hopen face mask factory near Angers, western France.

He added the world has changed and that there is now unprecedented tension on global markets and that France needed to boost domestic production to become self-sufficient.

France has ordered more than one billion face masks from China and the first orders are already arriving, Macron said.

10 million masks per week

France's four face mask factories will also boost their combined output from 3.3 million per week before the start of the crisis to 10 million per week by end April, and production by new players such as car parts maker Faurecia, tyre maker Michelin and retailer Intermarché will push total output to 15 million per week, Macron said.

In addition, in three to four weeks the country will also be able to produce a million masks per day for people in other professions than the medical sector, he said.

Macron said a consortium led by respirator maker Air Liquide and including car parts maker Valeo, car maker PSA and Schneider Electric, will produce some 10,000 ventilators by mid-May.

Some 250 emergency rooms ventilators will be delivered in the coming eight days, he added.

France has also boosted its production of disinfecting hand gel from 40,000 litres per day to 500,000 litres per day.

The French government will fund the purchase of masks and ventilators with a €4 billion ($4.4 billion) boost to the state health budget.

Urgent need

Healthcare staff say they are in urgent need of FFP2 health masks at the country's hospitals, where the death toll from the pandemic rose to more than 3,000 on Monday.

"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 last week.

"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.

Several companies have already donated masks to the government.

French luxury label LVMH says it has ordered 40 million health masks from a Chinese supplier to help France cope with the coronavirus outbreak.

Coronavirus: millions of chinese-made masks arrive in France

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

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