Government starts legal action against face mask suppliers

Government starts legal action against face mask suppliers
The dispute centres on 25 million masks intended for health-care staff. © Belga

The federal health ministry has begun legal action against four suppliers of protective face masks, over the quality of their product, De Morgen reports.

At the start of the Covid-19 crisis, Belgium was faced with a critical shortage of face masks. The government itself had destroyed a strategic stock of some 27 million masks, and then found itself having to compete on a world market under huge pressure of demand.

What happened over the following months has never been made entirely clear. Philippe De Backer (Open VLD), then minister for social fraud, the North Sea and administrative simplification, was put in charge of procurement. But questions that arose early on in the process – how many masks were ordered, for how much money, and using what procedures for granting the contract – were never answered.

Now De Morgen has obtained a confidential document that reveals that in the first three months of the crisis, between March and June, 50 orders were placed totalling 400 million surgical and FFP2 masks – the latter reserved for health personnel.

But not all orders were filled. One order for five million masks was cancelled, as was another, for 500,000 masks from the online para-pharmacy Pharmasimple.

And legal action has been initiated against four other suppliers: marketing and distribution company IC Pharma based in Auderghem in Brussels; infection control specialists UltraZonic from Zandhoven in Antwerp province; and two others more mysterious, Life medical from Schelle, also in Antwerp province, and Qingdao LuoTa Management.

The four companies together were responsible for the delivery of 25 million FFP2 masks. "These matters are now in the hands of our lawyers,” a spokesperson for the health ministry told the paper, declining to give more details.

De Morgen also contacted UltraZonic, a company which specialises in the cleaning of endoscopes and other surgical instruments. The company said it was itself involved in legal action against its supplier, after the masks delivered turned out to be of substandard quality.

Life Medical confirmed an action had been started. The other two companies could not be contacted.

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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