The Flemish government has announced it will be investing €15 million over the next ten years to build its own stock of protective materials, including face masks, for possible future epidemics.
At the start of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, chaos unfolded when it was revealed that the strategic stock of facemasks built up by the federal government was destroyed. Consequently, wearing a face mask was not recommended or compulsory for a long time and the Flemish government later purchased face masks and other protective materials itself.
“By making this investment now, we are not only complying with the recommendations of the Coronavirus Commission, but we can also use these stocks for six months if the world markets are again severely disrupted,” Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon and the region’s health minister Wouter Beke said in a statement.
The new stock, consisting of 16 million surgical face masks, 2.25 million FFP2 masks, 7.5 million gloves, and 750,000 aprons, is expected to be large enough to last for at least three months in the event of another pandemic.
“All products will physically be kept in stock to avoid excessive dependence on external suppliers who have not always been able to fulfil their contractual obligations over the past 18 months,” the press release published on Monday read.
The strategic stock will be renewed taking into account the expiry dates of the products.
“We are playing it safe and making the necessary budgetary efforts so that we can provide employees in our Flemish care and welfare institutions with the necessary materials in times of crisis,” Jambon said.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Flanders has purchased almost €42 million worth of personal protection equipment, of which most of the funds (€30.1 million) were for face masks.
Initially, Flanders devised a system of ‘push deliveries’, meaning that certain equipment was automatically delivered to the Flemish care facilities. However, this system has now been abandoned as the international markets for protective materials have stabilised.
Meanwhile, the Flemish government will also provide more than €15 million in compensation for expenses that both residential and non-residential institutions incurred when purchasing protective equipment during the pandemic.
In return, the Flemish care and welfare services will be obliged to keep an emergency stock for three months.