France has millions of unsold face masks after virus crisis

France has millions of unsold face masks after virus crisis
In this Friday, June 20, 2020 photo, an employee cuts fabrics in Chanteclair Hosiery, a French knitwear clothing manufacturer in Saint Pouange, east of Paris Friday June 12, 2020. (AP)
Updated 13 June 2020

France has millions of unsold face masks after virus crisis

France has millions of unsold face masks after virus crisis
  • Companies that helped France avoid a shortage of virus-filtering face wear say they need help unloading a surplus of 20 million masks

PARIS: The French praised the altruism of their prized textile and luxury goods companies when production facilities got diverted from churning out the latest fashions to making cloth masks designed to protect the general public from the coronavirus.
Now, the companies that helped France avoid a feared shortage of virus-filtering face wear for everyday use say they need help unloading a surplus of 20 million masks. They asked the French government for assistance promoting and finding buyers for the unsold output of the industry’s national effort.
Hundreds of textile and clothing manufacturers answered the government’s call for millions of masks superior to homemade versions. President Emmanuel Macron last month sported a military-tested model embroidered with the tri-color national flag to advertise the “Made in France” masks.
Yet within weeks, demand dried up for the domestically produced masks that sold for a few euros at supermarkets and pharmacies or were available in bulk for free distribution by businesses and local governments. Manufacturers and the government acknowledged that many suppliers and consumers still opted for cheaper disposable face masks from Asia.
“They were more readily available,” Guillaume Gibault, founder of trendy underwear brand Le Slip Francais (The French Brief), told French public radio service RFI.
Gibault sees the slump as a marketing and distribution problem. The washable, specially engineered masks produced by his company and others saw “a very strong and immediate demand” before the excess accessories piled up in warehouses and factories.
“Not everyone necessarily knew about what was available around them, and the public didn’t necessarily know where or what to buy,” he said.
Some textile companies complained that the French government was slow to validate their masks as effective in filtering out small particles, which slowed their ability to get to market before people were allowed to start emerging from their homes and needed masks in stores or on public transportation.
A group of industry representatives got time with two junior government ministers this week to discuss the surplus masks, as well as broader concerns about the health of fashion, textiles and luxury goods makers amid the economic fallout of the pandemic and in the long term.
After the meeting, the ministers offered praise and pledged the government’s help to spread the word to distributors, local governments and other potential customers about the environmental and employment benefits of the French masks and finding buyers at home and abroad for the surplus stock.
Agnes Pannier-Runacher, state secretary to France’s economy minister, told French broadcaster RTL that the government’s objective “is to convince large buyers to switch from single-use masks to reusable washable textile masks.” Gibault and French Textile Industry Union President Yves Dubief agreed to lead the mission.
“In a few weeks, the French textile industry has managed to mobilize and redirect its productive apparatus on our territory in order to provide the French durable textile masks with guaranteed filtration in sufficient quantities,” Pannier-Runacher said. “This impressive effort is to be commended. It must now be long-term and be given support.”
The French Textile Industry Union was the first to sound the alarm in early June on this problem of surplus.
“The demand was such that no one had anticipated such a brutal halt. But in the textile industry, once launched, production does not stop with a snap of the fingers,” Dubief told French magazine Challenges.
Some French companies were disgruntled because it was the French government that urged many of them to get into mask-making and to increase capacity so the country would produce 5 million masks a day that could be sold or given to the general public, local governments and corporations by mid-May.
The knitwear manufacturer behind the mask Macron flashed during a school visit at the beginning of May, Chanteclair, has a lot more where the president’s came from. Owner Thomas Delize also has many unanswered questions.
The French government said this week that part of the joint industry-government mission will be “to support the sector in adjusting its production capacities to collective needs in masks over the next few months.” For his part, Delize thinks that blocking large imports with trade barriers might help what ails his company.
“We don’t know how the pandemic will evolve. We don’t know which instructions the government will give, we don’t know what kind of equipment the professionals will want. So today, yes, we have a surplus stock of 600,000 masks and it obviously has an impact on my company.”


France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief
Updated 11 April 2021

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief
  • Europe Minister Clement Beaune says Turkey set 'trap' for Ursula von der Leyen
  • Erdogan's snub dubbed 'sofagate' has sparked a diplomatic storm between Turkey and Europe

PARIS: France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said Sunday that Turkey had set a “trap” for European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen by forcing her to sit off to the side on a visit to Ankara, in a photo-op faux pas quickly dubbed ‘sofagate’.
The Turkish presidency’s failure to place a chair for von der Leyen alongside President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and EU Council chief Charles Michel was “an insult from Turkey,” Beaune said on RTL television.

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“Turkey behaved badly,” he added, calling it “a Turkish problem done deliberately toward us... we shouldn’t be stirring up guilt among Europeans.”
Von der Leyen’s being shunted aside prompted recriminations from European capitals to Turkey, but also within Brussels.
For its part, Ankara insists the incident was down to tangled wires between the Council and Commission, separate EU institutions.
Michel’s staff claimed they had no access to the meeting room before the Tuesday event, but also highlighted that the Council chief comes before the Commission president under strict international protocol.
“It was a kind of trap... between the one who laid it and the one who walked into it, I’d rather place the blame on the one who laid it,” France’s Beaune said.
Echoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who called Erdogan a “dictator” in response to the sofa incident, Beaune charged that there was “a real problem with lack of respect for democracy and an autocratic drift in Turkey” that should prompt Europeans to be “very firm with the Turks.”
Nevertheless, “in future, it would be good if there was one single presidency of the European executive,” Beaune acknowledged.
“We need stronger European institutions.”


India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge

India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge
Updated 11 April 2021

India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge

India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge
  • Seven Indian companies have licensed the drug from Gilead Sciences
NEW DELHI: India said on Sunday it had banned the export of anti-viral drug Remdesivir and its active pharmaceutical ingredients after a record spike in COVID-19 cases sent demand surging.
“In light of the above, Government of India has prohibited the exports of Injection Remdesivir and Remdesivir Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) till the situation improves,” the health ministry said in a statement.
Seven Indian companies have licensed the drug from Gilead Sciences, with an installed capacity of about 3.9 million units per month.

Victim of London terror attack will return to rehabilitating prisoners

Victim of London terror attack will return to rehabilitating prisoners
Updated 11 April 2021

Victim of London terror attack will return to rehabilitating prisoners

Victim of London terror attack will return to rehabilitating prisoners
  • Stephanie Szczotko was stabbed by Usman Khan at a rehabilitation event for prisoners
  • ‘I’ve always enjoyed support work and helping people, so I want to carry on with that’

LONDON: A criminology graduate who was injured during the 2019 Fishmonger’s Hall attack in London has said she will return to rehabilitating prisoners.

Stephanie Szczotko, 26, was stabbed in the arm by Usman Khan during his murderous spree at a rehabilitation event for prisoners on license. 

Khan, 28, killed two of his victims — Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23 — both of whom were workers from the Learning Together initiative, a rehabilitation scheme backed by Cambridge University.

The terrorist, who was shot dead on London Bridge by a firearm officer, was wearing a fake suicide vest.

Szczotko, from Bath in the west of England, visited prisons on behalf of the initiative during her criminology degree, and attended the Fishmonger’s Hall event as an alumni of the group.

She has remained an advocate of prisoner rehabilitation and restorative justice efforts, saying the attack “didn’t really change my opinion.”

She added that many of the ex-offenders at the event put themselves in harm’s way by challenging Khan as he started his rampage. 

“I’ve always enjoyed support work and helping people, so I want to carry on with that — maybe working with youth offenders,” Szczotko said.

The inquest into the deaths of Merritt and Jones starts on Monday. Witnesses will give evidence as the inquest seeks to establish what, if anything, the security services and the police knew ahead of the attack.


Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low

Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low
Updated 11 April 2021

Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low

Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low
  • Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control

BEIJING: In a rare admission of the weakness of Chinese coronavirus vaccines, the country’s top disease control official says their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them to give them a boost.
Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control, Gao Fu, at a conference Saturday in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Beijing has distributed hundreds of millions of doses in other countries while also trying to promote doubt about the effectiveness of Western vaccines.
“It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” Gao said.
The effectiveness rate of a coronavirus vaccine from Sinovac, a Chinese developer, at preventing symptomatic infections has been found to be as low as 50.4% by researchers in Brazil. By comparison, the vaccine made by Pfizer has been found to be 97% effective.
Beijing has yet to approve any foreign vaccines for use in China, where the coronavirus emerged in late 2019.
Gao gave no details of possible changes in strategy but mentioned mRNA, a previously experimental technique used by Western vaccine developers while China’s drug makers used traditional technology.
“Everyone should consider the benefits mRNA vaccines can bring for humanity,” Gao said. “We must follow it carefully and not ignore it just because we already have several types of vaccines already.”
Gao previously raised questions about the safety of mRNA vaccines. He was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying in December he couldn’t rule out negative side effects because they were being used for the first time on healthy people.
Chinese state media and popular health and science blogs also have questioned the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine, which uses mRNA.
As of April 2, some 34 million people have received both of the two doses required by Chinese vaccines and about 65 million received one, according to Gao.
Experts say mixing vaccines, or sequential immunization, might boost effectiveness rates. Trials around the world are looking at mixing of vaccines or giving a booster shot after a longer time period. Researchers in Britain are studying a possible combination of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.


Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday
Updated 11 April 2021

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday
  • Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30
  • The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia

MANILA: Strict COVID-19 lockdowns in the Philippines capital and four adjacent provinces will be eased from April 12, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday.
Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30, spokesman Harry Roque told a virtual briefing.
Roque gave the briefing from hospital where he is being treated for COVID-19. He gave no details on which restrictions will be eased but said details would be released on Monday.
The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia, with hospitals in the capital overwhelmed amid record daily infections, while authorities face delays in delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.
On Sunday, the Department of Health recorded 11,681 new COVID-19 cases and 201 more deaths, bringing the country’s tallies to 864,868 confirmed infections and 14,945 fatalities.
New cases have surge in recent weeks, surpassing 15,000 on April 2, most of those in the congested capital.
Last week, Duterte canceled a weekly televised address and a meeting with his coronavirus task force as some of his staff and security detail were found to be COVID-19 positive.
Roque and Duterte’s defense minister, Delfin Lorenzana, also tested positive.
Roque said the government will work to increase the number of COVID-19 beds in health care facilities and free up more room in hospitals.
Under the current quarantine classification for Manila and surrounding areas, non-essential movement is banned, along with mass gatherings and dining in restaurants, with longer-than-usual curfews also in place since March 29.
The reimposition of strict lockdowns has raised concerns the economy will take longer to recover from last year’s worst slump on record.