corona-virus 13 March 2020

Coronavirus: Bans and export controls on face masks and equipment accelerating, group says

As the Covid-19 Coronavirus wreaks global worries and chaos, governments around the world have been circling their wagons, imposing bans or export controls over medicines and medical supplies to ensure supplies for their own populations.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization (‘WHO’) declared the worldwide outbreak of the new coronavirus a pandemic, with more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries and nearly 4,300 deaths.

China, where scientists believe the virus originated, began stockpiling protective masks early on after the outbreak, leading to shortages around the globe.

Since the beginning of this year, 24 nations have imposed export restrictions on medicines and medical equipment in response to the Coronavirus, 16 of them in the first 10 days of March, according to Global Trade Alert, a monitoring service at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland.  It concludes that, ‘The pace at which governments are resorting to export restrictions is accelerating.’

In Europe, where Italy remains in lockdown with the largest number of infections outside China, Germany and France have imposed limits on exports of medical equipment such as respiratory masks, gloves and protective suits in most cases. Russia has followed suit until June 1 and the Czech government, which has placed a price cap on local sales of face masks, says it is banning exports of respirators and will monitor local sales.

Top European Union (EU) officials have called for solidarity among Member States to combat the virus.  Janez Lenarcic, the bloc’s top official for crisis management, said such bans were allowed under European treaties but suggested they were against the spirit of the alliance.  Member States should make sure that protective equipment is available across Europe, he said.

Belgium’s Health Minister Maggie De Block has called on EU countries to be ‘united’ in the distribution of protective face masks. ‘Blocking exports between Member States is not in the spirit of the European Union,’ she tweeted after the German and the Czech decisions to impose restrictions.

Italy, which has 12,000 confirmed cases and where the death toll was at 927 on Thursday, does not make face masks but is reportedly getting 800,000 from South Africa and needs at least 10 million more, according to officials.

Early this month, Turkey imposed stringent restrictions on exports of medical protective gear in a preemptive measure.

South Korea has banned the export of masks and materials used to make respirators while Taiwan and Thailand have banned exports to meet soaring demand.

India, the world’s main supplier of generic drugs, has restricted the export of 26 pharmaceutical ingredients and the medicines made from them, including paracetamol.

Meanwhile, Peter Navarro, the White House’s trade and manufacturing adviser, criticized countries like Germany, Russia and Turkey for rushing to impose export controls to limit trade in medical supplies.

He told the Financial Times the moves showed that the US is ‘alone’ in confronting the outbreak and would have to reduce its dependence on global medical supply chains, as the number of cases in the country has grown to 149 people and 10 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday evening.