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Paris police seize 23,000 face masks amid shortage in escalating crisis

French nurses in Nice wearing FFP2 face masks. Almost 40 thousand face masks hoarded for the black market have been seized by police in France.
French nurses in Nice wearing FFP2 face masks. Almost 40 thousand face masks hoarded for the black market have been seized by police in France. Reuters/Eric Gaillard

French police have arrested a man in possession of more than 23,000 face masks in Paris' plush 16th arrondissement. With France set to surpass 33,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, amid an acute shortage of masks for health workers, the suspect could face several years in jail.

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Police found 23,096 FFP2 protective masks and surgical masks which should have been part of the stock requisitioned by the government at the beginning of France's coronavirus epidemic.

The man arrested admitted he intended to sell them. He could face between six months to 5 years in prison.

Police also found large amount of money in a flat occupied by the same suspect in the 16th district.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office of Paris told local media that the masks had been handed over to the health authorities and that an investigation has been launched into the matter.

France has registered 1,995 deaths as result of the coronavirus and 32,964 confirmed cases, according to the official figures published on Saturday morning.

The prime minister warned of a “brutal period” ahead, while overworked health professionals in all sectors, from hospitals to nursing homes, have repeatedly complained about a lack face masks and medical supplies.

Essential supplies stolen

It's not the first time French police have seized face masks and medical supplies that were hoarded, waiting to be sold on the black market. But according to the prosecutor’s office, this latest operation, which took place on 22 March, is the largest.

On 18 March, Paris police announced they had seized nearly 16,000 face masks and 250 bottles of fake hand sanitiser.

Some hospitals in France have also reported thefts of thousands of masks since the Covid-19 outbreak began.

The government has ordered one billion face masks from China, including 74 million FFP2 masks.

Thirty million surgical masks are to be delivered to hospitals, health clinics and pharmacies in the coming days.

French health officials have expressed exasperation that many people are wearing masks for their trips outside the house, ignoring repeated advice that they are not needed for healthy people.

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