Mask wars in the Wild West

Mask wars in the Wild West

Alarming events are taking place in the West, the region of the world which has become the epicenter of the Covid-19 pandemic. European countries and the United States are all blaming each other in their panic at having been caught unprepared for the pandemic, lacking the healthcare system and supplies to deal with the crisis.

The EU had closed its doors to Italy and Spain, the countries that were the most affected by the pandemic, while China, Russia, Cuba and Turkey have responded positively and rushed to help. Now we are seeing EU flags being burnt in the streets across Europe, while more and more politicians criticize EU officials.

The EU officials on the other hand, have been criticizing the United States, which has shut down its borders and refused assistance. China and Russia have provided help to the United States, the new epicenter of the pandemic, where the healthcare system has collapsed and the number of deaths and new cases continues to increase.


As the arguments over aid continues, Western countries have begun confiscating each other’s medical supplies in desperation. The US’ theft of the masks has been compared to ‘modern piracy’.

Recently, German authorities accused the United States of confiscating their masks. The German Ministry of Health ordered 400,000 masks for the doctors and hospital employees from an American company in China. The United States arbitrarily took 200,000 of these masks and brought them to the US.

In Germany, Andreas Geisel, the Interior minister of the State of Berlin, said that the masks were supposed to be shipped to Germany, but were confiscated by the United States in Bangkok, Thailand. Geisel harshly criticized Washington, saying that “This is an act of piracy.”

Stressing that allies should not treat each other like this, Geisel added, “Even in the times of a global crisis, methods from the Wild West should not be implemented.”


The Mayor of Berlin Michael Muller said that, “the American President’s actions are inhumane and unacceptable.”

German Health Minister Jens Spahn has emphasized that there was a war over the masks in the market and added, “The whole world is craving masks. Masks are worth as much as gold now.”

The White House has denied the allegation that the masks had been confiscated.


A similar crisis between the United States and Germany has been going on regarding vaccines. The German press reported that the US President Donald Trump wanted to buy the rights for the vaccine a German company was working on. The United States has tried to buy all rights of a German research company working to develop vaccines against coronavirus to make it available for itself, according to the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. German government officials say they had learned the same information, but would not accept the request. Speaking to a German TV channel called ARD about the claim, German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier stated that “Germany is not for sale.”

In the face of the increasing cases, the United States, where health care workers are as insufficient as supplies, had advertised to commission more workers from other countries, according to the press.


Previously, Canada and France had laid similar blame on the United States.

In France, the president of the Paca Region, Renaud Muselier, announced on April 2 that masks and other protective products ordered from China had been sent to the United States instead.

Muselier continued saying that: “the masks ordered by the French in China, were purchased by the Americans with cash at the airport and the plane that was supposed to come to France had gone to the United States instead.”


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacted to the US on limiting the flow of goods after blocking the equipment needed for the Covid-19 equipment.

Justin Trudeau said during a press conference, “It would be a mistake to block or to reduce the amount of the vital goods and services on our border, including the medical products. This is the point where we are very clearly warning the American administration at the moment.”


The mask wars are not only being conducted between countries. There is also a domestic battle going on between state administrations and the federal government in the United States. According to the American media reports, 3 million masks purchased by the State of Massachusetts were confiscated by an unnamed federal government agency in the port of New York.

The Washington Post reported on March 31 that some states controlled by the Republican Party were given more aid than they demanded.

US President Donald Trump has threatened the protective mask producer company 3M to cut off exports of surgical masks. In a statement made on April 3, Trump said the continuation of the exports could result in “serious consequences” for the company, and reintroduced the Defense Production Act after the companies ignored his statement.


As the threat of the pandemic grows, confiscations of each other’s medical supplies among European Union member countries is drastically increasing. Here are some of the acts of  ‘piracy’ that have been reflected to the press in the recent days:

* A few days ago, a Swedish-based medical company Mölnlycke announced that France had confiscated millions of surgical masks and gloves imported from China meant for Italy and Spain. The company’s Chief Executive Twomey said that after France’s unexpected act, the company would ship the new medical supplies that are imported from China to Italy and Spain through Belgium instead. After diplomatic efforts for nearly two weeks, only the half of the masks were shipped to Italy and Spain.

* Last week it was claimed that Germany had confiscated masks imported from China to Italy. Germany also blocked the import of 240,000 masks to Switzerland on March 8. Switzerland has launched a diplomatic initiative to resolve the issue.

* On February 25th, it was revealed that Italy had confiscated 2,000 respirator units being sent to Greece.

* The first incident saw Czech police capturing hundreds of thousands of masks and respirator units that China had sent to Italy. Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek made an apology, saying there had been a misunderstanding.


Two models stand out in the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic: one is the individualistic, selfish Western model of looting each other’s supplies and isolating oneself. The other is the populist, cooperative Chinese model of rushing to help the rest of the world, sharing medical supplies, and sending doctors.

These two models also shape the structure of their societies. On one hand there are Western societies where grocery stores are looted, elderly people are abandoned to die in nursing homes, racism rises and people commit suicide out of despair; The other is the socialist model of China where most members of society help their neighbors, assure supplies reach the elderly and the youth are protected.

Today, the whole world is arguing over these two models. The peoples of the world have seen how these two models worked in relation to the unfolding crisis. As a result, the trust of the peoples of the West toward their rulers and institutions has dropped significantly, while a respectful relationship built on trust has further developed in China between the government and the people.

As the mask wars continue in the West, generosity and sharing are rising in the East!

Elif İlhamoğlu

Elif İlhamoğlu is political scientist and  journalist (Turkey). She is studying for PHD on the political science and international relations department at Istanbul University. She visited Middle East countries, Syria, Lebanon, Iran several times and did interviews with the leaders as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hilal al-Hilal Secretary General of the Syrian Ba'ath Party.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


March 2024