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Medical supply shortage spurs global scramble for materials

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Virus Outbreak New York
Virus Outbreak New York   -   Copyright  Ted Shaffrey/AP Photo
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Global officials have bemoaned a scramble for key medical supplies as countries race to buy masks and ventilators amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials in multiple countries have notably called out the US government's effort to secure masks and other key medical supplies. The US currently has the most COVID-19 cases of any other country in the world.

US President Donald Trump said Friday he would direct the US Federal Emergency Management Agency to prevent the export of masks for healthcare professionals, gloves and other protective gear.

Trump had earlier resorted to invoking a 1950 war act to require companies to prioritise medical equipment orders for the federal government during a public fight with a US manufacturing company.

Manufacturing giant 3M hit back at the US government stating that limiting exports of respirators to Canada and Latin American countries would have “significant humanitarian implications”.

“There are, however, significant humanitarian implications of ceasing respirator supplies to healthcare workers in Canada and Latin America, where we are a critical supplier of respirators,” the manufacturing company 3M wrote in a statement.

"Ceasing all export of respirators produced in the United States would likely cause other countries to retaliate and do the same, as some have already done. If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the United States would actually decrease," the statement added.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the US would just be hurting itself by interrupting the flow of "essential goods".

“We are continuing to engage in constructive discussions with different levels within the administration to highlight that the U.S. will be hurting itself as much as Canada will be hurting if we see an interruption of essential goods and services flow back and forth across the border," the Canadian PM said.

Berlin's local government also criticised the US, accusing them of confiscating 200,000 FFP2 masks in Bangkok destined for Germany.

“We consider this an act of modern piracy. This is not how you deal with transatlantic partners. Even in times of global crisis, there should be no wild west methods. I urge the federal government to urge the United States to comply with international rules,” said Berlin's interior senator Andreas Geisel.

It was not immediately clear where the masks originated or what company they had been ordered from.

Several French regional officials said this past week that the US government had prevented masks from going to France by bidding higher.

Regional president for the eastern region of France, Jean Rottner, told RTL that Americans paid three times the price on the "tarmac" in China.

The president of the île-de-France region Valérie Pécresse also said the US had "outbid" an order that was designated for the region, which is where Paris is located.

The US government, according to AFP, has denied the claims.

A World Health Organization spokesperson told Euronews earlier this week that "the chronic global shortage" of protective equipment is "one of the most urgent threats to our collective ability to save lives."

In another sign of the global shortage of materials, New York's governor Andrew Cuomo commended China for the 1,000 ventilators it sent to the state which is at the epicentre of the US crisis.

Within the US itself, the crisis has become a bidding war, Cuomo said at a press conference.

"It's like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator and you see the bid go up because California bid, Illinois bid, Florida bid, New York bids, California re bids. That's literally what we're doing," he said. "I mean, how inefficient."

Meanwhile, after Turkey initially delayed the shipment of respirators to Spain, the shipment eventually was delivered.

Arancha González, Spanish minister of Foreign and European affairs, tweeted her thanks to the Turkish government for authorising the shipment of Turkish respirators to two regions of Spain.