March 17, 2020 / 6:06 PM / 14 days ago

France says it expects health professionals to get masks by week-end

PARIS (Reuters) - All health professionals in France are expected to be supplied with respiratory masks in the next two days, the French health minister said on Tuesday, after the government ordered a requisition of the protective gear to try and combat shortages.

French police officers control motorists in Belleville neighborhood as a lockdown imposed to slow the rate of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) contagion started at midday in all the country, in Paris, France, March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Earlier this month, French president Emmanuel Macron said the state would seize masks being produced on French soil to end shortages in some hospitals, doctors’ practices and chemists, as countries across Europe fight the coronavirus outbreak.

“Lorries are getting to the 25 regions where needs are the most pressing,” Minister Oliver Veran told reporters, adding all regions would benefit from these deliveries by Thursday. He did not provide figures.

The masks will not, however, be made available to the public.

Germany also said earlier in March it was limiting exports of respiratory masks. The German decree was amended on Saturday, a day after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said limits placed on exports of medical equipment by countries including France and Germany undermined the EU single market.

The coronavirus outbreak has triggered a massive surge in demand for protective gear and shortages soon became acute as China, where the virus originated, accounted for more than half of global production of masks, according to the World Health Organization.

Many health professionals in France have criticized the shortages as the country fights the coronavirus and entered a unprecedented lockdown on Tuesday. Supermarket workers have also asked to be provided with masks as their stores remain open, although they have not had access to them so far.

Sources at several mask maufacturers in France told Reuters that they increased production, adding that their clients overseas had expressed discontent about the export ban however.

When asked about the situation in France, a spokeswoman with U.S 3M, a leading masks manufacturer, said last week it was urging governments around the world to better work together, adding “barriers put up by some” were “impeding its efforts.”

Last week, European Union industry chief Thierry Breton said his teams had started overseeing production of masks and other protective equipment to address shortages across the bloc.

Reporting by Matthias Blamont ; Editing by Sarah White, William Maclean

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