Face masks: Import debacle highlights the need for domestic production

A Finnish company which already has face mask manufacturing capabilities in China has now signed a deal to switch production to Finland instead.

File picture of woman wearing anti-pollution / anti-germ face mask / Credit: iStock

A debacle over face masks ordered from China which failed quality control tests, has highlighted the need for more reliable ways of getting protective equipment to Finland’s frontline medical staff.

The multi-million euro deal was for 230,000 high grade surgical masks that could be worn in hospitals. Those masks arrived in Helsinki on Tuesday along with two million standard grade paper face masks.

They were ordered by the Finnish National Emergency Supply Agency NESA, and as first reported by Suomen Kuvalehti magazine, the order was placed through an intermediary in Estonia Tiina Jylhä, a beautician who runs a plastic surgery business.

Jylhä says she should have been paid millions of euros to make the face mask delivery happen. The money went instead to her partner for this deal Onni Sarmaste, a man who runs a payday loan company. Jylhä says Sarmaste shouldn’t have got all the money, just a commission.

NESA admits that they were in a rush to get the deal done, and didn’t do all the proper background checks that they should have.

Now the Minister for Employment Tuula Haatainen (SDP), who oversees NESA, has ordered a swift investigation into why it spent millions of euros on face masks from China that were found to be faulty, and cannot be used in hospitals.

The CEO of NESA Tomi Lounema told News Now Finland this week that in these sort of deals “you have to pay first, then you get what you get.” He said the procurement system in China is “totally not normal” and that “the risks are very high when you operate in this market.”

Finland starts domestic face mask production

The debacle unfolded even as one Finnish company signed a deal with NESA to start producing millions of face masks domestically.

Lifa Air already has production facilities in China where it is currently manufacturing the KN95 respirator masks – those correspond to the European level of FFP2 protection which has more than 95% filtration efficiency and are cleared for use in hospitals.

When production begins in Finland the company will also make the FFP2 masks as well as a lower grade FFP3 mask which can be used in care homes, for example.

Production is supposed to start in the spring, and the company says “as soon as possible” after equipment to make the masks is brought from China.