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Face mask production to start in Finland

Finnish officials have contracted with a manufacturer to start large scale production of surgical masks and respirators.

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Image: Jarkko Heikkinen / Yle

The manufacture of badly needed personal face protection equipment is to begin in Finland after the National Emergency Supply Agency signed an agreement with the Helsinki-based company Lifa Air on Wednesday.

"Our target is to manufacture over 100 million respirators and surgical masks annually in Finland," Lifa Air CEO Johan Brandt stated in a release on Wednesday evening.

Lifa Air is a Finnish company that currently manufactures respirators and masks in China. Initial consignments of personal protection equipment for the National Emergency Supply Agency will come from the company's Chinese plant. Later this spring, Lifa Air will begin PPE manufacturing in Finland, as well.

Minister of Economic Affairs Mika Lintilä has said that production will start in Finland within a few weeks. The contract announced will not, however, cover all of the nation's projected needs during the coronavirus epidemic. The government is now in talks with at least two other possible domestic manufacturers.

"Very chaotic"

Demand worldwide for personal protective equipment, especially respirators and surgical masks, has surged as the coronavirus has spread. Face protectors are needed by hospital personnel, other caregivers, and many service sector workers.

Many countries are competing on world markets to purchase available supplies and the director of Finland’s National Emergency Supply Agency, Tomi Lounema, on Wednesday described the situation as “very chaotic”.

Finland was supposed to have had enough equipment stockpiled to see the country through an epidemic, but more are needed. The National Emergency Supply Agency has distributed its reserves and is seeking fresh supplies. The government and healthcare providers have exchanged accusations of a lack of preparedness to deal with the present crisis.

Once tested, it was found that a large consignment of face masks and personal protection equipment that arrived in Finland from China on Tuesday are not up to standard. The Ministry of Health and Social Affairs said that the masks can be used in care homes to prevent staff from passing on coronavirus, but not in hospitals.

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