President Macron battles to salvage his image amid PPE fiasco after it emerged France burned a BILLION masks ahead of coronavirus pandemic
- Masks too old for use were burned and not replaced in cost-cutting measures
- When the virus arrived just 117million masks remained from a peak of 1.7billion
- That was short of the 40million masks healthcare workers needed every week
- Medics have slammed how Macron’s government has handled the pandemic
- Leading pollsters say the face mask fiasco has ‘really damaged’ Macron’s image
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
President Macron is battling to salvage his image amid a series of blunders in France’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, including the revelation that a billion face masks were burned ahead of the crisis.
It has emerged that masks believed to be too old for use were destroyed and not replaced as France scaled back its pandemic planning after neither Sars nor swine flu were as deadly as predicted.
Earlier this year army base staff incinerated much of the country’s stock of facemasks, which had reach a peak of 1.7 billion in 2011, as part of cost-cutting measures.
Just 117 million masks remained when the pandemic began to unfold across France – meaning frontline health workers struggled to get hold of one for weeks.
FFP2 masks (such as the one pictured above) which filter 94 per cent of particles whereas ordinary surgical masks filter just 80 per cent
The number was desperately short of the 40 million masks health workers needed to protect them each week throughout March and April, during the height of the pandemic.
The facemask fiasco has had a tremendous impact on public faith in President Macron, who faces accusations of incompetence. Leading pollsters say the news has ‘really damaged his image’.
The centrist president’s government has also been accused of dishonesty for initially telling the public there was no point in wearing masks outside.
Some say this message was an attempt to disguise the fact that there were not enough masks for everyone.
Jean-Paul Hamon, Chairman of the Federation of Doctors of France, says he was reassured at a health ministry meeting in February that GPs were being equipped with FFP2 masks, which filter 94 per cent of particles.
Ordinary surgical masks filter just 80 per cent.
Macron’s government repeatedly said that there was no pount providing ordinary face masks for the general public in the first weeks of the crisis but backtracked last month following the first delivery of more than two billion masks from China
He claims that eight days after the meeting, officials called to say that GPs didn’t need the FFP2 masks and that ordinary ones would be sufficient as long as patients also wore them.
He told The Times: ‘The trouble was, there weren’t enough masks for patients. That’s when we started to think, ‘Hey, ho! Something’s up here’.
Hamon also said that some of the 35 deaths of doctors from coronavirus would have been reduced had more FFP2 masks been distributed.
‘Ministers lied when they said FFP2 masks weren’t necessary for GPs, and they lied again when they said there was no point in providing ordinary face masks for the general public’, he said.
Macron’s government repeatedly delivered that health advice in the first weeks of the crisis but backtracked last month following the first delivery of more than two billion masks from China.
Face masks are now recommended in shops and are mandatory on trains.
‘They should have owned up and said, ‘Ok, we cocked up, we thought we had enough masks but in fact we don’t and we’ll just have to muddle through until our production capacities increase’,’ Dr Hamon told The Times.
Dr Hamon said officials also reassured medics that enough tests would be available with help from other European countries, but that the tests were from Germany and those authorities kept them.
There have so far been around 146,000 infections and nearly 28,600 deaths from coronavirus across France.
The fiasco has overshadowed Macron’s attempts to bolster public support throughout the crisis, such as placing nearly 13million workers on a furlough scheme and pledging to drop his controversial plan to curb pension rights.
‘The handling of the masks has really damaged his image,’ said Pierre Giacometti, a leading pollster said.
‘People have the impression that he didn’t have a clear vision of what he was doing and tried to hide the truth from them.’
French president Emmanuel Macron, pictured during a recent press conference with Angela Merkel, has lost his majority in the National Assembly
He added that Macron has had the lowest ratings for his handling of the crisis across all western leaders, alongside Pedro Sanchez of Spain.
He told The Times: ‘The incredible thing is that you’ve got ministers going on TV to say: ‘Look, we’ve done more than any other country, we’ve got the best furlough scheme of anyone’, and then you get the French people not recognising that and saying: ‘The government has not done enough’.’
Macron is up for re-election in 2022, five years after ousting France’s traditional parties and thrashing the far-right Marine Le Pen to win the presidency in 2017.
Earlier this month it was revealed the President lost his absolute majority in the French parliament after seven defectors joined a new bloc to demand a more left-wing agenda.
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