Ansell, one of the world’s biggest medical glove makers, has warned that “an everyone for themselves” attitude by national governments during the coronavirus pandemic is disrupting supply chains and hampering efforts to fight the outbreak.
The company, which is based in Melbourne but has an operational headquarters in Brussels, said governments in Europe had seized customers’ shipments at borders and redirected vital supplies of personal protective equipment to meet their own needs.
“We had a shipment from our main warehouse in Belgium to Italy that was stopped at the border and, essentially, the Italian government laid claim to our shipment,” said Magnus Nicolin, chief executive of Ansell, which makes about 10bn pairs of rubber gloves a year.
He told the Financial Times that Italian authorities rerouted the shipment and delivered it to a hospital which it deemed was a higher priority, rather than to the customer that ordered it from Ansell. “It messes with the flow quite a bit and is creating an inefficiency in the flow of goods,” Mr Nicolin added.
National governments are scrambling to source masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment as rising coronavirus infections globally prompt a surge in demand.
Mr Nicolin said other countries, such as Germany, had imposed export controls which complicated the shipment of goods across the European single market. Some companies with warehouses in Germany could no longer ship to France because of the rules, he said.
Rival manufacturers have also been affected, Mr Nicolin claimed. He said Czech authorities had recently confiscated a shipment of surgical masks from China destined for Italy, one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic. “They just took it and therefore it never arrived in Italy,” he added.
Mr Nicolin called on greater co-ordination between governments and international organisations such as the EU and World Trade Organization to prevent the such examples of “sniping” of surgical goods. The company has been in discussions with such bodies but little progress has been made, he said.
Supply chain issues are not just restricted to Europe. In Malaysia, where two-thirds of the world’s medical gloves are manufactured, restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus have caused shortages of raw material that could slow production, according to Ansell.
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Demand for Ansell’s personal protection products has more than doubled due to coronavirus and its supplies are completely sold out, according to the company. But Mr Nicolin said it was unclear how much it could boost supply due to raw material shortages and disruptions to supply chains.
“Hopefully we can stem the urge of local governments to do their own thing [and] to protect whatever material they can lay claim to,” he added.