HELSINKI (Reuters) – The Finnish government said on Friday it has accepted the resignation of the head of the country’s emergency supply agency over a multi-million euro purchase of Chinese face masks that proved unsuitable for hospital use.
Prime Minister Sanna Marin earlier said she had lost confidence in the official, Tomi Lounema.
The National Emergency Supply Centre, which is in charge of acquiring face masks and other equipment to help tackle the coronavirus pandemic, had paid two Finnish agents a combined 10 million euros ($11 million) for face mask deliveries from China.
But the millions of face masks that arrived in the first delivery earlier this week were found to be unsuitable for use in hospitals, while local media reported that one of the agents involved was in debt and facing court orders.
Lounema offered his resignation on Friday, Minister of employment Tuula Haatainen told a news conference.
The delivery that arrived from China on Tuesday was meant to contain 2 million surgical masks and 230,000 other face masks. But the masks were quickly found not to be suitable for hospital use due to their low quality, the ministry said on Wednesday.
“The protective gear market is highly chaotic at the moment. There are all kinds of traders and prices rise all the time,” Lounema said earlier in the week.
Finnish weekly Suomen Kuvalehti and the country’s largest daily, Helsingin Sanomat, reported that the first delivery of masks were bought via an agent who previously ran a short-term loan business and who faces court orders for debts. Reuters was not able to verify the reports or to contact the agent for comment.
The emergency supply centre holds reserves for different types of crisis, and it had been holding millions of face masks following the 2009 swine flu pandemic, which in the end did not reach Finland.
Due to high demand as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, however, its supplies are running low and the centre has been trying to purchase more equipment via several suppliers.
Reporting by Anne Kauranen; Editing by John Stonestreet and Hugh Lawson