“The risks are very high” as first shipment of protective equipment arrives from China

The National Emergency Supply Agency is bringing 12 planes with protective gear, but the agency's director says the risks of buying from China are very high.

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Masks and respirators arrive from China at Helsinki Airport, Tuesday 7th April 2020 / Credit: Tomi Lounema, NESA

A shipment of protective face masks has arrived in Finland from China to better equip healthcare workers tackling the coronavirus epidemic.

Pallets with two million face masks, and 230,000 higher grade surgical masks, arrived in Helsinki from Quangzhou China on Tuesday afternoon.

It’s the first shipment of 12 plane-loads of protective gear ordered by the National Emergency Supply Agency NESA. Most of the masks will be distributed quickly to hospitals, but the higher grade items will need to go through quality control tests first.

“We have now ordered 12 Airbus A350s full of material, and this is just the beginning” says Tomi Lounema, CEO of NESA.

“It costs millions and millions. When buying one big airplane full of masks it costs a few million euros. This is big money, but there is no other possibility. We have to get those materials and the Finnish government has ordered us to do it” he tells News Now Finland.

Lounema says it is a “quite chaotic situation” in China with different countries and agencies competing for the same supplies.

A senior German politician recently accused the USA of “modern piracy” after they reportedly snagged a shipment of face masks intended for German police as they were being transferred from one plane to another in Thailand.

“You have to pay first, then you get what you get. This situation is totally not normal. The risks are very high when you operate in this market” explains Tomi Lounema.

“We hope the material we get today is okay but I’m afraid in the future we will get some materials that are not okay. But that is the situation” he adds.

Criticism over lack of protective gear

There has been criticism from healthcare professionals and politicians recently over a lack of protective gear for Finnish hospitals.

Although the New York Times praised Finland for being the “prepper nation of the Nordics” in a weekend article, and NESA’s stores were opened up, many masks were past their expiration date.

The Director of Diagnostics at Helsinki and Uusimaa Hospital District Lasse Lehtonen criticised the government’s preparedness for the pandemic.

Lehtonen says that on a practical level the lack of protective equipment for doctors, nurses, care home workers and other medical staff had become a problem, and too little was finding its way from the stores to hospitals.