Coronavirus: Nearly 700K masks land at Schiphol as Dutch firms try "extortionate" pricing

A map depicting the rate of coronavirus infections on March 21, 2020
A map depicting the rate of coronavirus infections in the Netherlands per municipality and per capita. March 21, 2020RIVM

A delivery of 690 thousand medical masks arrived at Schiphol Airport on Saturday, the first tranche of millions ordered by the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport from organizations in China. The ministry said it also secured another 200 thousand masks domestically, but ran into a snag to take possession of even more when some Dutch businesses tried to charge extortionate prices for them.

The masks which were flown in were to be immediately distributed to locations where they are most needed during the current coronavirus pandemic. The ministry said the masks and other protective equipment are "essential to allow healthcare personnel to provide proper care to coronavirus patients and vulnerable individuals, such as in nursing homes."

Millions more masks will continue to be delivered from Chinese suppliers through the end of May, the ministry said. It did not say if the masks were filtering face piece respirators or surgical masks. However in a letter to parliament on Friday, Minister Hugo de Jonge said every type of mask is needed.

De Jonge also warned parliament that he will have to move fast every moment supplies become available. Thus, deals with overseas suppliers were going to be precarious and last-minute in nature. He cautioned that at any moment another buyer could swoop in and get their hands on equipment that otherwise would have gone to the Netherlands.

In his letter to parliament De Jonge also decried efforts by some in the business community to exploit the medical crisis for financial gain. The Ministry oversaw an effort to obtain more masks and protective gear which led to them receiving hundreds of offers from individuals and companies.

Many of these offers were rejected, De Jonge said. "This is partly because the stocks are offered against extortionate prices," he said. He continued that often further inquiry showed "that the products are not available at all, that the products do not have the right qualifications, or that it is not possible to check the reliability of the provider or supplier in the short term.

Still, the crowdsourcing effort allowed the ministry to obtain another 200 thousand masks of varying type. All of these were physically present in the Netherlands, he said. The ministry also said on Saturday it was supporting a partnership the hospitals created to increase their purchasing power by coordinating their efforts and buying protective equipment in bulk.