Top European Union officials called on Friday for solidarity among member countries in the face of the coronavirus, responding to moves by some nations to restrict exports on equipment that could be used to combat the outbreak.
France, Germany and other countries have imposed limits on the export of protective medical equipment, some of which is badly needed but in short supply. Janez Lenarcic, the bloc’s top official for crisis management, said such bans were permitted under European treaties but hinted at a desire to have them removed.
Member states should make sure that protective equipment is available across Europe, he said. Stella Kyriakides, the European Union health commissioner, put it in simple terms: “Solidarity is key.”
Maggie De Block, Belgium’s health minister, said on Friday that European Union countries had to be “united” in the distribution of protective face masks.
“Blocking exports between member states is not in the spirit of the European Union,” Ms. De Block said on Twitter, referring to the decision made by Germany and the Czech Republic to ban the export of certain types of protective gear.
But after a news conference in Brussels, there was little indication that any country was planning to lift its export controls.
Although Ms. De Block did not refer to France, which has requisitioned all current and future stocks of some types of protective face masks, France’s health minister was asked about her comments after a special meeting of E.U. health ministers in Brussels on Friday.
Olivier Véran, the French health minister, said that France had made the decision “not with protectionism in mind, but to enable us to have the largest, most complete view of the material that we have.”
Mr. Véran said there had been a “multiplication” of cases of price gouging and secondary market reselling and that France had acted “in Europe’s interest” by doing an inventory of its mask production and storage capacities. But Mr. Véran did not give a clear answer when asked if France intended to immediately send masks to other European countries like Italy, saying only that the E.U. had to assess the needs of all its members and that France was currently “correlating” its current “capacities” with the needs of its population.
“Everyone needs to do this preparatory work so that we can then have a concerted European vision,” Mr. Véran said. “But believe me, France will not be exempt of its duty and of its drive for solidarity.”
On Thursday, the German authorities issued a decree banning export of protective clothing and other medical gear such as gloves and masks. Such products could only be sold abroad in narrowly defined circumstances, such as an international aid effort, the order said. A government crisis team also established a centralized system for allocating scarce protective equipment to doctors, hospitals and federal authorities.
Outside the European Union, Turkey and Russia have put in restrictions too.
In Turkey, Ruhsar Pekcan, the trade minister, said that masks, goggles and sterile gloves would be subject to export controls after surges in sales over the past two months. “As it is likely that the outbreak will be seen in our country, we decided to subject protective gear exports to prior authorization to manage domestic demand,” said Ms. Pekcan, according to reports by state media. Companies looking to export protective gowns and other equipment will now have to seek permission from the government.
Russia’s prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, signed on March 2 an order prohibiting the export of some medical supplies. The order, in effect until June 1, bans exports of medical masks, gloves and goggles, biohazard suits, medical robes, antiviral medicines, gauze and some other products. The ban doesn’t cover items travelers carry for personal use or state humanitarian aid shipments. Denis Manturov, the head of the Ministry for Industry and Trade, said that it was necessary to prevent “speculators” exporting goods overseas.
The outbreak is also being felt in other ways: The European Union Parliament occasionally holds proceedings in Strasbourg, France, rather than Brussels, but officials said it would remain in Belgium next week.
Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace region, which has been categorized as a coronavirus cluster. The Parliament’s trips across the border, the result of a longstanding compromise on where it should be sited, are a favorite target of the European Union’s critics, who describe them as a waste of time, money and resources.
Reporting was contributed by Monika Pronczuk, Aurelien Breeden, Michael Wolgelenter, Jack Ewing and Andrew E. Kramerc.
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