Masks will be available for public sale in supermarkets and pharmacies starting on May 4 despite a shortage that lasted for weeks.
Now, some are asking where these millions of masks are coming from when medical professionals said they did not have enough earlier in the crisis.
“How can we explain that our care workers could not access masks when it has been announced, with a great deal of loud communication, staggering numbers of masks to be sold to the public by certain distribution channels,” said the medical orders of pharmacists, midwives, nurses, dentists, and physiotherapists in a joint statement issued April 30.
“How do we explain to our patients, especially the most fragile,” that what was in shortage yesterday “is now plentiful?” they added.
France’s Federation of Commerce and Distribution called the statement “defamatory”, insisting that there were no “hidden stocks” and that large distribution companies gave FFP2 masks to health workers at the beginning of the crisis.
Agnès Pannier-Runacher, a state secretary at France’s economic ministry, said there were no hidden stocks, stating that the government worked “hand in hand” with stores and distribution channels, to prepare for the easing of restrictions on May 11.
France’s order of dentists has already walked back on the communication condemning the millions of masks made available to the larger public.
The president of the southern region of France also accused supermarkets of having a stockpile, questioning where these masks were coming from.
“I give supermarkets three days to prove that they did not have a secret stock of masks during the crisis! Our health workers did not have enough, the French regions and state struggled to get ahold of them: if this is confirmed, I will immediately file a criminal complaint,” said regional president Renaud Muselier in a tweet.
Government authorised orders in April
Large supermarket chains have maintained that there is no secret stash of masks and that they only began ordering masks after a government authorisation dating April 24 to prepare for distributing to the public.
Carrefour said that “until March 21” the supermarket giant “had given all of its stock of masks” to “health workers”. The group then ordered masks “to ensure the safety of employees and franchise partners”.
“In total, Carrefour has secured orders for 70 million disposable masks for its employees and 225 million masks (175 million disposable masks and 50 million washable masks) for the French people,” the supermarket chain said in a statement.
Supermarket chains Intermarché and Netto said they had 50 million single-use masks delivered between April 13 and May 2.
Dominique Schelcher, CEO of supermarket chain System U, said that surgical masks were bought after the government authorised it in April.
He criticised the controversy, stating: “Doesn’t France have enough challenges to overcome?”