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EU will avoid medicine shortage, industry chief says

PARIS (Reuters) – European Union countries will have access to the medicines they need to care for coronavirus sufferers, the bloc’s industry chief Thierry Breton said on Thursday, adding pharmaceutical companies were doubling production to address shortages.

The coronavirus pandemic has placed a huge strain on hospitals in Italy, Spain, France, and elsewhere in Europe as intensive care units fill up with tens of thousands of patients suffering the same illness.

Hospital executives and doctors of nine European countries said in an open letter on Wednesday they only had up to two weeks worth of supplies of some medicines and urged greater European collaboration.

Breton said the European Commission had anticipated the supply crunch.

“We foresaw there would be tensions over a number of medicines, notably those associated to intensive care treatment,” Breton told France Inter radio.

“Industry players have been summoned. Today, they are doubling production and I think we’re going to be able to address the situation,” he said, without elaborating.

Many countries around the world rely on China, the source of the outbreak, for drug ingredients and now find themselves grappling with how to avoid shortages.

France has said 40% of its drug ingredients are imported from China, where the coronavirus forced the closure of factories early in the year. They are only now beginning to reopen.

EU documents show that barely a month before Europe scrambled to find masks, ventilators and testing kits, national governments were telling Brussels their healthcare systems were ready and there was no need to order more stocks.

Officials with the European federation of pharmaceutical industries (EFPIA) were not immediately reachable for comment.

Doctors in France, which became the fourth country to pass the 4,000 coronavirus deaths threshold on Wednesday, have said levels of morphine and antibiotics, among other drugs, are running alarmingly low.

France’s drug safety regulator said earlier this month stocks of anaesthetic drug Propofol, manufactured by Germany’s Fresenius (FREG.DE), were running low and new supplies would not be available in France until mid-April. French doctors have also cited Pfizer’s (PFE.N) curare as another drug they need more of.

The head of the World Health Organization voiced deep concern on Wednesday about the rapid escalation and global spread of COVID-19 cases from the new coronavirus, which has now reached 205 countries and territories.

Reporting by Matthias Blamont; Editing by Richard Lough and Mark Potter

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