Coronavirus face Masks: a look back at the origins of a shortage

Strategic choices prevailed after the H1N1 flu epidemic in 2010 in the management of stocks of surgical masks and FFP2. Masks that are sorely lacking today in the face of the Coronavirus pandemic.

But where are the masks? While millions of French people are desperately searching for it to fight the coronavirus pandemic that has caused nearly 23,000 deaths in France, to date, it will still be necessary to wait to find it. At least until May 4, when everyone should be served. Pharmacies, tobacco shops and communities should be able to meet demand. In the meantime, to this unprecedented health crisis, is added chaotic management of these tools.

Recently, Jerome Salomon, had received a note informing him, as of 2018, that the state stock of masks was “insufficient and expired”. A year later, the French public health agency in turn published an expert opinion calling for the creation of a stock of 1 billion masks. A recommendation remained a dead letter. So, by what magic do we find ourselves in a situation of shortage? Poland is installing mask dispensers on the streets of Warsaw. Japan distributes two masks per household in letter boxes. And in France? What has happened in the last ten years when the country had, in 2010, 1 billion masks, against 110 million in early 2020? In 2009-2010, the stock of masks is at an all-time high.

At that time, France captured a third of the world’s annual production. The country is facing the H1N1 flu epidemic and the health minister is looking wide in the face of the “blitzkrieg” that is brewing. The equipment is ordered: “one billion anti-splash masks, intended for the sick, 900 million protective masks, called” FFP2 “, for particularly exposed people and 33 million antiviral treatments”, explains Roselyne Bachelot. The epidemic killed 600,000 people on the planet, but France was little affected. We talk about “grippette” and the minister is singled out for having greatly overestimated the announced health disaster. Governments pass and the lesson is learned. In the following years, mask stocks decrease. It is estimated that France no longer needs to stock this type of equipment since its manufacture and import can be largely ensured by other countries such as China. Except that it is precisely in this country that the Coronavirus crisis erupted in December 2019. And the Middle Kingdom will keep its masks to face the immense epidemic wave. In 2013, the management of masks changed hands. Its management is no longer essentially ensured by the State but by the hospital system and health establishments. Expired stocks are not renewed. All of these strategies partly explain the reasons for the shortage during a pandemic. Agnès Pannier-Runacher, Secretary of State to the Minister of Economy and Finance, yesterday set a target of producing 20 million surgical masks and FFP2 weekly by the end of May. “We went from 3.5 million masks at the start of the year to 50 million masks produced each week by October.” Textile companies are also involved. “390 prototypes of masks in general public fabric from 240 French companies have been validated by the Directorate General of Armaments”. With the increase in production rates, 26 million consumer masks, most of which can be reused 20 times, will be made available every week from the end of April.

David T

David T is a french Medical student, during its free time, he is writing for The Medical Progress and helping us to understand better the Coronavirus.

Related Articles