France’s health professionals demand an explanation as millions of face masks become available in French supermarkets this week.

France’s health professionals demand an explanation over face masks as millions become available in French supermarkets this week.

FRENCH supermarkets have promised to put millions of masks on sale to protect against Covid-19. Some health professionals are asking for an explanation about these deliveries after weeks of shortages and rationing.

On May 4, millions of single-use masks went on sale in France in supermarket chains provoking the indignation of many health professionals, who have been calling for more masks for weeks.

However, supermarkets, with the support of the government, are being forced to defend themselves against accusations that they have been stockpiling them.

Healthcare representatives are reported to have said, “No one would have criticised mass distribution channels for distributing consumer masks to the general public. That would have been a useful addition to the arsenal of defence against the virus.”

Meanwhile, Carrefour supermarket chain CEO Alexandre Bompard announced last Wednesday that his group had secured some 225 million masks for the coming weeks, including 175 million surgical masks and 50 million textile masks.

The supermarkets are committed to selling these surgical and consumer masks at cost or at a low margin. While the price of single-use masks may not exceed €0.95 per unit under the ceiling set by the government, the price of masks for the general public is not regulated because of the diversity of models.

As the storm of controversy escalates, the government is trying to calm things down. Health Minister Olivier Véran said the “mass retailers do not really have mask stocks and have simply announced upcoming deliveries for the time being.”

By refuting the existence of hidden stocks, Véran hopes to reassure healthcare workers. “My priority is [that they] have surgical masks. Supermarkets may sell their stocks as long as this condition is respected… We’re coming out of a period when healthcare workers didn’t always have access to a sufficient quantity of masks. So I understand their feelings and even their anger,” he said.

Some politicians, unconvinced by these explanations, have jumped into the debate. Senator Nathalie Delattre, a member of the centrist Radical Movement representing the Gironde, has called for a commission of inquiry to be set up.

“Either supermarkets have infinitely superior striking power than the state and managed to obtain so many masks in so little time, in which case the commission will have to shed full light on the inadequacies of the national decision-making chain,” she wrote in a letter to Senate President Gérard Larcher, given to AFP, “or supermarkets are making a mockery of the French people’s health and will have to answer this: How many lives could have been saved if these stocks had been distributed rather than stored while waiting to be sold?”

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