Coronavirus: Belgium calls out EU countries blocking face mask exports

Coronavirus: Belgium calls out EU countries blocking face mask exports
Belgium's health minister said blocking exports of medical equipment amid the coronavirus outbreak was contrary to "the spirit" of the EU, as Berlin and Prague moved to ban exports to prevent shortages. Credit: Stock image/Unsplash

Governments blocking medical mask exports as global stocks dwindle amid the coronavirus outbreak are acting against the "spirit" of the European Union, Belgium's health minister said.

"That is not the spirit of the European Union," Minister Maggie De Block told reporters, referring to decisions of Germany and the Czech Republic to halt exports of protective medical gear to prevent shortages.

De Block's statements came just as she entered a meeting with other EU health ministers, who gathered at the EU Council building for a meeting on the bloc's response to the coronavirus outbreak, as it accelerates rapidly through the continent.

"I think we must remain solidary to one another when it comes to the distribution of protective face masks," De Block said, adding that she was planning to "politely" raise the issue with her EU counterparts.

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Last week, the German government's task force on the coronavirus epidemic announced that a temporary ban on the export of protective medical equipment would come into "immediate" effect.

Prague followed suit announcing a similar move on Wednesday, prohibiting the export of special respirator face masks and announcing price caps in an attempt to prevent consumer hoarding.

The decisions by Berlin and Prague to halt exports of protective medical equipment come as a surge in demand is challenged by plummeting production in China, the world's lead exporter of medical masks and other gear.

In consultation with other heads of Belgium's government this week, De Block said measures were being studied to face the shortage of medical gear, including pushing Belgian textile companies to start locally producing them, a push whose feasibility raises questions in the industry.

The meeting of EU ministers on Friday will see officials work to flesh out a coordinated response as the virus continues to spread in Europe, with spikes in the number of confirmed cases and new infection clusters reported in Belgium daily and across other member states.

Update: Asked about the consistency of the export ban of protective masks with internal market rules, a Commission spokesperson replied at today's daily press briefing that member states are allowed to take such decisions in emergency situations.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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