Discrepancies in New Zealand Government Mask Stock and Manufacturing Figures

I have been watching the daily New Zealand COVID-19 press conferences and have noticed that there are many discrepancies in the figures announced by the New Zealand government regarding the number of face masks held in the national reserve supply and the number of face masks produced at the Whanganui factory. It is concerning because New Zealand may not have as many masks as the government says. The details are below.

1) Discrepancies in Government Mask Stock Figures

The Minister of Health and the Prime Minister have both claimed on separate occasions that the Ministry of Health holds 18 million masks in the national reserve supply [3, 10]. Additionally, the Prime Minister claimed that the 18 million masks are composed of 9 million P2 masks and 9 million surgical masks [10]. However, the Ministry of Health’s own web page on the composition of the national reserve supply, which was last updated on January 28th 2020, states that there are only 13.5 million masks in the national reserve supply; 9 million P2 masks and 4.5 million surgical masks [7]. Where did the extra 4.5 million surgical masks from the Prime Minister’s statement come from?

The national reserve supply originally held 17 million masks that were purchased from 2006 to 2008; the stock was composed of 3.4 million P2 masks and 13.6 million surgical masks [6]. The masks have a shelf life of 10 years according to the Ministry of Health [7] and 5 years according to 3M [1]. This means that all of the original 17 million national reserve supply masks have expired. Fresh masks were added to the national reserve supply from 2016 to 2019, giving the current total of 13.5 million non-expired masks [7]. Is the government including expired masks from the original national reserve supply stock in it’s mask counts?

The Minister of Health has also claimed that DHBs hold an additional 5.1 million masks [3]. However, the Ministry of Health’s own web page on the composition of the national reserve supply, states that “DHB stored PPE” was purchased from 2005 to 2007 [7], therefore, if DHBs haven’t rotated their stock, it is possible that their masks have expired. It is not inconceivable that a large portion of masks have expired. For example, it was recently discovered that all 55 million masks in Ontario’s stockpile and all 21 million masks in California’s stockpile had expired [2, 5]. What proportion of masks in DHB storage have expired?

2) Discrepancies in Government Mask Manufacturing Figures

On March 24th 2020, the Director-General of Health stated that "initial production [at our Whanganui factory] was 200,000 masks a day and that’s increasing, so we are very confident about our access to PPE here" [8]. The Director-General of Health has repeated this figure since then [9]. However, on March the 27th, the Minister of Health and the Prime Minister both said that the Whanganui factory is only producing 80,000 masks a day and that new machinery is required to double production [3, 4]. How did mask production drop by 60%? How many masks has the Whanganui factory produced for the government during this crisis? What proportion masks are P2 masks and what proportion are surgical masks?

An action that would keep the government accountable for mask production and distribution is to adopt the reporting model used by the South Korean Ministry of Health, which publishes a daily update on the total number of masks manufactured and distributed each day [11]. The update includes how many of the masks were distributed for public sale, broken down by the area of distribution (Daegu, Seoul, other areas) and the types of shops they were sent to (special supply, pharmacy, post office, supermarket). Last, the update details how many masks were sent to hospitals, medical centres and government departments.


[1] 3M. Frequently Asked Questions: 3M Health Care Particulate Respirator and Surgical Masks Storage Conditions and Shelf Life. 5th Feb. 2020. url: https://multimedia.3m.com/mws/media/869238O/3m-health-care-particulate-respirator-and-surgical-masks-storage-conditions-and-shelf-life-faq.pdf.

[2] Allison Martell and Moira Warburton. Roughly 55 million N95 masks in Ontario expired before coronavirus hit. Global News. url: https://globalnews.ca/news/6651402/ontario-coronavirus-masks-medical-supplies-expired/.

[3] Hon. Dr. David Clark. Face masks flowing to DHBs. The Beehive. 27th Mar. 2020. url: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/face-masks-flowing-dhbs.

[4] Jacinda Ardern. Jacinda Ardern’s Instagram profile post: "I'll admit, I have watched this video more than once. This is a factory in Whanganui churning out face masks to help keep our essential..." Instagram. 27th Mar. 2020. url: https://www.instagram.com/p/B-OUc3lAgC7/.

[5] Matthias Gafni. Coronavirus: The state had 21 million N95 masks stockpiled. All are expired. SFChronicle.com. 29th Mar. 2020. url: https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Coronavirus-California-had-21-million-N95-masks-15164180.php

[6] Ministry of Health. Composition of the national reserve supply 12/06/2014. Ministry of Health NZ. 6th Dec. 2014. url: https://web.archive.org/web/20140621155206/https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/emergency-management/national-reserve-supplies/composition-national-reserve-supply.

[7] Ministry of Health. Composition of the national reserve supply 28/01/2020. Ministry of Health NZ. 28th Jan. 2020. url: https://web.archive.org/web/20200327051830/https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/emergency-management/national-reserve-supplies/composition-national-reserve-supply.

[8] Ministry of Health. COVID-19 media update, 24 March. Ministry of Health NZ. 24th Mar. 2020. url: https://www.health.govt.nz/news-media/news-items/covid-19-media-update-24-march.

[9] Ministry of Health. COVID-19 media update, 26 March. Ministry of Health NZ. 26th Mar. 2020. url: https://www.health.govt.nz/news-media/news-items/covid-19-media-update-26-march.

[10] Office of the Prime Minister. Post-Cabinet press conference: Monday, 24 February. 24th Feb. 2020. url: https://www.beehive.govt.nz/sites/default/files/2020-02/Press%20Conference%2024%20February%202020.pdf.

[11] 보건복지부 질병관리본부 코로나바이러스감염증-19(COVID-19). 코로나바이러스감염증-19(COVID-19). 코로나바이러스감염증-19(COVID-19). url: http://ncov.mohw.go.kr/maskBoardList.do?brdId=3&brdGubun=36