The coronavirus has caused shortages of many of life's necessities that we might normally take for granted: money, jobs, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and now, medical face masks.
In an attempt to alleviate the need for this last item, required especially to protect healthcare workers on the front lines, officials in countries worldwide have been ordering them en masse from China. Yet despite the colossal number of masks that the Chinese are constantly cranking out to meet global demand, they simply can't keep up with the ongoing influx of orders.
For this reason, medical face masks have become a hot commodity that people are willing to go to great lengths to obtain--even if those lengths include questionable methods and unethical behavior.
In a scandal that we are calling Mask Gate, the U.S. has been accused by more than one high-ranking French official of having poached a cargo of millions of face masks right out from under them. According to articles in Libération and Ouest France, two mainstream and upstanding French publications, a shipment of masks destined for France made it as far as a cargo plane on the runway of a Chinese airport. The masks, pre-ordered and prepaid by the French, were ready for take-off this morning, when the Americans allegedly swooped in, paid double the price for the masks in cash, and rerouted the plane to the U.S.--thus pilfering the goods from their original recipients.
Because the U.S. is ordering several billions of masks to fulfill requirements, while France needs meager millions, the U.S. is given priority by the Chinese. They're simply a bigger and therefore "better" customer. But this isn't really fair, especially when the Americans decide to play dirty. The U.S. has almost five times the population and 18 times the geographic size of France (France is roughly the size of Texas), so shoving the French aside and pirating their face masks amounts to the big kid stealing the little kid's lunch on the playground. Except that in this case, lunch is a matter of life and death.
COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and it seems that some of our leaders may have forgotten that the entire world is in this together. It shouldn't have to be us versus them. We need medical supplies in this country as much as anyone, and it's great that Big Brother is looking out for us in our time of need--trying to get us the help we require. But at what cost? That of morality, ethics, and basic decency?
Apparently, this is not the only concern with this mask scandal. The Chinese manufacturers have also been known to initiate scams--stealing money, shorting customers, and not delivering on their promises.
It would seem that we have enough to worry about with this virus without bootlegging masks, breaking moral codes, and resorting to blatant bullying. It's true that these are unprecedented times, and the usual rules don't apply. But some of them still ought to.