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15th Aug 2020

Coronavirus

Commission suspends mask deliveries over defects

  • This is not the first time EU countries have faced problems with substandard medical supplies during the coronavirus pandemic (Photo: katie chao and ben muessig)

The European Commission announced on Thursday (14 May) that they had suspended future deliveries of masks for member states - after some EU countries found them to be defective.

The Polish minister of health, Łukasz Szumowski, complained this week that the 616,000 masks received from the commission do not meet EU standards.

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"The masks do not meet the necessary requirements for FFP2 masks and should not be used by medial professional treating Covid-19 patients," reads the letter sent by Poland to the EU commissioner for health, Stella Kyriakides, on Wednesday.

"It is of utmost importance to inform other member states of our results in order to precent putting medical professionals at risks as the masks do not protect against coronavirus," it adds.

Earlier this month, the commission started distributing some 1.5m masks to 17 EU countries plus the UK to protect healthcare workers.

However, the commission has informed all member states and the UK about the problem, a commission spokesperson said on Thursday - adding that the Netherlands has also identified similar problems.

In the letter address to the commission, Szumowski suggests that the EU's executive body should demand the manufacturer send another batch of masks - but this time matching EU standards.

The 1.5m masks are the first batch of 10m masks purchased by the commission via the Emergency Support Instrument, which aims to directly support the EU's healthcare system by mobilising €2.7m from the EU's long-term budget.

The manufacturer is located in China but the supplier was in Germany, commission sources told this website.

Quality control?

"The commission has scrupulously followed all control measures verifying that these masks were useable - doing all necessary diligences with the provider," a commission spokesperson said on Thursday.

However, once the masks are sent out to member states, quality also needs to be re-checked - this is what Polish authorities and others did.

"The quality of the masks is utmost importance for us that is why we ask member states to keep us put to date on the results of their analysis of these masks," the spokesperson also said, adding that this information will help the commission to evaluate next steps.

However, this is not the first time EU countries have faced problems with faulty medical supplies during the pandemic.

And the EU's anti-fraud office Olaf is investigating the sale of fake medical, personal protection, and hygiene products.

Among others, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Slovakia and the Czech Republic have been victims of fraud when trying to increase their availability of tests or masks.

"Millions of substandard medical products with fake EU conformity certificates have been seized in several member states," Olaf announced on Wednesday (13 May).

Olaf has also identified fraudsters trying to sell alternative medicine products that are not effective against Covid-19.

For example, traditional Chinese medicine pills, which are not authorised in the EU, were discovered in one member state.

EU fighting shortages and faulty medical supplies

EU countries reported shortages of ventilators, personal protective equipment and testing kits, but also being victims of fraud. Meanwhile, the European Commission has scaled up its efforts to avoid shortages of ani-virus gear and faulty medical supplies in the EU.

EU commission seeks to buy medical gear itself

EU crisis management becomes difficult when all member states are hit at the same time, commissioner Janez Lenarcic admitted. To avoid that, the commission wants powers to itself buy strategic reserves for member states.

EU commission to stockpile strategic medical gear

The EU executive wants to set up a reserve of cricial medical gear, which it would finance almost entirely. It could already be operational next week. There is a "scarcity" of such equipment globally.

EU secures remdesivir supplies for 30,000 patients

The European Commission signed this week a €63m contract with the US-based biopharmaceutical company Gilead to secure batches of remdesivir for 30,000 patients with "severe" Covid-19 symptoms - after the US left Europe and most of the world without supplies.

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