The United States seized the equipment just minutes before the plane took off, said Renaud Muselier, chief of the southwest Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.
“A French order was bought in cash by Americans on the tarmac, and the plane that was to fly to France took off for the United States instead,” Muselier told RT France on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the head of the northeast region of Grand Est told French radio station RTL that the Americans paid “three or four times” the amount in cash directly on the tarmac, citing the need to “fight” to medical equipment.
France has ordered more than a billion face masks, the vast majority from China, said the country’s health minister on Saturday as the government struggles to increase stocks, the coronavirus epidemic showing no sign of loosening.
Health Minister Olivier Veran said France is using 40 million face masks a week to fight the pandemic and currently has three weeks of supplies.
Doctors, retirement home guards, police and other front-line workers have reported a shortage of masks.
France has nearly 57,000 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. More than 4,000 people have died from the disease, while almost 11,000 have recovered.