Coronavirus: Countries begin hijacking medical goods over supply shortage fears

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Governments have begun to use any methods necessary in order to secure supplies of crucial medical goods to fight the coronavirus pandemic, such as face masks and ventilators.

Countries including the US, France, and Turkey have been accused of confiscating shipments, holding on to supplies, and last minute outbidding each other in an escalating war for supply goods. One German official noted that US efforts to secure a shipment of face masks from China destined for Germany smacked of “methods from the Wild West,” AFP reported.

“Unfortunately, some countries manage the crisis with the logic of jungle law and seize medical support shipments, looking at their narrow interests,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash said in a Tweet on Sunday.

On Friday, German officials accused the US of diverting a delivery of Chinese-made face masks bound for Germany in an act of “modern-day piracy,” Berlin’s State Minister of the Interior Andreas Geisel said.

French officials had made similar complaints earlier in the week that the US had taken orders of Chinese masks by outbidding them at the last minute on a shipment that had already been lined up, AFP reported.

“On the tarmac, they arrive, get the cash out … so we really have to fight,” Jean Rottner, a doctor and president of the French GrandEst regional council told RTL radio, The Guardian reported.

The US denied these claims, stating that it has “not purchased any masks intended for delivery from China to France.”

Earlier in March, Germany blocked a shipment of 240,000 face masks to Switzerland, following a ban on most exports of protective medical equipment. Austria raised similar complaints.

“It can’t be that Germany is holding back products for Austria just because they happen to be stored in a German location,” Bloomberg reported Austrian Economy Minister Margarete Schramboeck as saying.

Turkey was accused of seizing hundreds of life-saving ventilator machines destined for Spain last week. Local newspaper El Mundo reported Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Arancha González Laya as saying that the Turkish Government decided to keep the machines “for the treatment of their own patients.”

Turkey later released the ventilators as a media furor rose in Spain.

Global shortages

As the coronavirus pandemic continues the supply problem of crucial equipment is unlikely to disappear. Data analytics company GlobalData estimated last week that there is a supply gap of around 880,000 ventilators globally due to the virus’s outbreak.

“Access to medical ventilators is a matter of life and death for many patients that have a severe bout of COVID-19… export curbs on ventilators deny access to this medical equipment to foreign buyers and citizens. Export curbs on related parts and components can slow down or stall production of ventilators,” GlobalData said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said last week that the US state needed 30,000 ventilators to support its outbreak of cases, and that “you cannot buy them.” Examples like these point to the overstretched nature of the global medical supply chain, coupled with dangerously overburdened local healthcare systems.

Holding up medical imports and exports carry a human cost, as stockpiling can mean countries are left unprepared for when the pandemic strikes.

“The human cost of export bans of medical equipment are not something any policymaker wants to have on their conscience,” GlobalData added.

With agencies

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