Coronavirus mask

‘Criminals will stop at nothing to make a profit’: Soaring demand for medical masks prompts warning about counterfeits made in sweatshops

Seeking to profit from the global coronavirus pandemic, counterfeiters across the globe are producing phony medical masks that authorities warn are unsafe, the Independent reports.

“Criminals will stop at nothing to make a profit,” Jürgen Stock, secretary-general of Interpol, told the newspaper. “The illicit trade in such counterfeit medical items during a public health crisis shows their total disregard for people’s wellbeing, or their lives.”

The fake masks are being produced in unsterile facilities, including sweatshops that have been used to produce designer knockoffs of jeans and handbags.

The counterfeiters are even applying false labels and certification stamps, law enforcement sources told the Independent.

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Interpol issued a warning last week about an international effort to produce fake and unsafe medical supplies. The investigation has so far spanned 90 countries and resulted in 121 arrests, with authorities seizing $14 million of “potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals.”

On Tuesday alone, police in Turkey seized 1 million fake masks and arrested five people at a sweatshop in Istanbul.

“They use Photoshop or whatever and make their own certificates,” one industry source told the newspaper. “They are even enlisting box manufacturers to make fake boxes with logos on them like they were selling fake Nike T-shirts. Because nobody’s buying T-shirts anymore, they start to manufacture masks.”

Fake masks are dangerous because they may not be made with the appropriate materials, might lack the ability to block viruses and may be produced in unsterile facilities.

“Masks not fulfilling the density requirements means the virus can come through to the nose or mouth of the person,” a source within the industry told the newspaper.

Investigators are still working to assess the scope and scale of the rogue operations, but factories have been identified in China, Turkey and India. One Turkish factory reportedly produces 450,000 masks per day, and the country as a whole can make about 50 million masks per day, according to an industry source.

The newspaper reports that China did not help the situation by requiring companies with little knowledge or experience to make or procure masks. European countries like Poland, France and Germany also have intensified demand for masks. The going rate for masks has thus soared, prompting manufacturers without sufficient standards to enter the market and reap huge profits.

In China, authorities have seized tens of thousands of suspected fake masks, which were being sold in Hong Kong and the mainland. More than $1 million worth of illicit masks were destroyed there last month.

In Turkey, authorities have raided legitimate mask producers demanding that they sell their products to the national government. Such a practice could become more common around the globe, said Nuket Kucukel of Ankara’s Guven Hospital.

“It’s possible many governments will have to consider intervening,” Kucukel told the newspaper.

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[Feature Photo: Pixabay]