Germany enlists industrial giants to procure face masks and medical gear

Germany enlists industrial giants to procure face masks and medical gear
Markus Söder (CSU), Minister President of Bavaria, stands with a face mask in a production hall of the automotive supplier Zettl on April 2nd. Photo: DPA
Berlin is enlisting German multinationals and their networks of contacts abroad, especially in China, to secure protective clothing and equipment in the fight against the coronavirus, the health ministry said Friday.

“The health ministry procures directly, but we are also in contact with a whole string of companies… who may be able to help,” a spokeswoman told reporters at a press conference in the German capital.

A spokesman for chemical giant BASF told AFP that its “employees are on a government procurement team” known as the Task Force Personal Protective Equipment (TFPSA).

“In China, BASF experts are currently working with other companies and their local contacts to help procure and transport medical protective clothing and equipment such as face masks that are urgently needed in Germany,” the spokesman said.

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Public broadcaster ARD had earlier reported that other German global giants like carmaker Volkswagen and airline group Lufthansa were involved in the effort.

Staff from the health, finance and foreign ministries were looking to counter “dynamic market developments”, ARD reported, quoting from a government document that outlined the scheme.

A global rush to secure vital gear for medical personnel as they treat virus-infected patients has sent prices soaring and led to Wild West-like scenes in producer countries.

French regional leaders told AFP that shipments of masks they had ordered were snapped up by American buyers as they stood ready for departure on the tarmac at Chinese airports.

“The Americans took a shipment from us, we've identified a load they outbid us on,” said Valerie Pecresse, head of the Ile-de-France region that encompasses capital Paris and its surroundings.

So far Berlin has been able to acquire around 20 million face masks, although many hospitals, medical practices and care homes still report shortages.

In light of the corona crisis, companies such as Bavarian automotive supplier Zettle have ceased normal operations and began producing protective masks.

READ ALSO: 'They could reduce the risk': Germany's public health institute changes stance on face masks

Hopes the German military's procurement arm could speed up the process have been disappointed, as most of the gear so far has been procured directly by the health ministry.

A shipment of six million masks ordered by the military went missing at an airport in Kenya in March, the defence ministry confirmed last week.

The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) responsible for disease control reported Friday 76,696 confirmed coronavirus infections in Germany, an increase of more than 6,000 in 24 hours.

So far over 1,000 Germans have died of the COVID-19 disease.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus deaths in Germany top 1,000 as officials say infection rate is slowing


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