Coronavirus in Europe: Scramble for face masks and medical supplies sends prices soaring

Workers unloading medical equipment at Romania's Covid Command centre
Workers unloading medical equipment at Romania's Covid Command centre Copyright Euronews
By Mari Jeanne Ion
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Face masks and medical supplies are being sold for two or three times their value as countries scramble to protect their health workers.


Vital medical supplies are being sold for twice or three times their value as countries scramble to keep their health workers protected, it's been claimed.

Unifarm, one of the main distributors of pharmaceutical products in Romania, said orders were falling through because other buyers were making better offers.

It comes after scores of health workers have died from COVID-19 across Europe after being on the coronavirus frontline.

"We faced many situations where even if we made down payments of 10, 20 or 30 per cent of the price for certain materials, the next morning the producer would terminate the contract because another buyer came in and paid 100 per cent for the whole stock," said Adrian Ionel, chief executive of Unifarm.

"Other times we paid 100 per cent up front and the next morning we would find out that others threw in twice or three times the amount, in cash."

Now Romania is the first EU country to host a Brussels-funded stockpile of medical supplies, which will then be distributed to other member countries.

But, for some, it comes too late.

For weeks now hospitals in hard-hit countries such as Italy and Spain have been overwhelmed and lacking supplies.

Howard Catton, chief executive of the International Council of Nurses, said the initiative is encouraging but it should have been implemented before the shortage.

“What this tells us is that we weren't prepared enough and this is a key lesson for the future, we shouldn't have to put this in place now, it should be ready to go, the stockpile should be there,” he said.

Janez Lenarcic, the EU commissioner for crisis management, told Euronews he is hopeful the extra supply will soon be available.

"This is the key challenge that everybody is facing (...) everybody wants the same thing at the same time and a large quantity of it and the mismatch between the demand and supply, of course, complicates procurement but we are trying our best and we have good contacts to the member states who volunteered to create this stockpile for the European capacity," he said. "So I think that there will be soon this additional capacity for our member states."

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