A delivery of 15 million cloth face masks expected from a Luxembourg company this weekend will not take place as scheduled, the defence ministry has admitted.
In late April the National Security Council ordered that face masks would be obligatory on public transport from May 4, and for children returning to school on May 18.
With that announcement, the race was on to find enough masks of sufficient quality to supply everyone in the population with at least one. The defence ministry under Philippe Goffin (MR) was given the job of ordering the masks.
By May 5, two companies had been found: Tweeds & Cottons, a clothing company based in Ghent, would supply three million masks by May 24. A second company, Avrox of Luxembourg, would deliver 15 million masks by the same deadline.
The second of those commissions raised some eyebrows: while Tweeds & Cottons is behind the successful clothing brand River Woods, Avrox has no connection to the textile sector, and is in fact a mailbox company like so many registered in the Grand Duchy – the address of its head office is also the address of about 20 other companies.
Doubts over the ability of Avrox to fulfil the contract have turned out to be justified. Goffin announced this week that the shipment of 15 million masks will not now arrive in time to meet the deadline on Sunday.
“A first delivery is scheduled for this weekend,” he said. “The rest of the order will follow sometime next week. Contractually, each day of delay in delivery will be subject to a penalty from May 25.”
In the meantime, Tweeds & Cottons delivered one million masks last weekend, and they have been tested and approved. The second shipment of two million will arrive this weekend as required.
The Avrox portion of the total order was worth €37.5 million – about €2.50 a mask including shipping. The company now faces a penalty starting on Monday of 2% a day of the value of the masks that remain undelivered, up to a maximum of 10%.
For example, if no masks are delivered on Sunday, Avrox will forfeit a maximum of €750,000 a day for each day of delay. The masks may be late in arriving, but the taxpayer will in the end pay less.
What happens once all of the masks are in possession of the defence ministry has not yet been decided definitively, but it appears the preferred option for distribution of the masks is via the pharmacies, which already have a rapid and effective distribution network for supply of medications, and who are in a position to give advice to customers on the care and use of the masks.
The Brussels Times