Chinese firm sold half-million 'fake' COVID-19 masks meant to protect doctors

Pakistan Forward and AFP

Workers produce face masks to be exported at a factory in Nantong, China, May 14. [STR/AFP]

Workers produce face masks to be exported at a factory in Nantong, China, May 14. [STR/AFP]

The US Justice Department sued a Chinese company for selling nearly a half million fake and substandard N95 masks in April as the COVID-19 pandemic swept the world.

In a complaint filed in federal court in New York, the department said on June 5 that Guangdong-based King Year Packaging and Printing shipped three batches of purported N95 masks, needed to protect medical and other personnel from the coronavirus.

The company falsely claimed the 495,200 masks it shipped met the N95 standard and also falsely claimed that the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health had certified them, according to the complaint.

The importer of the masks paid more than $1 million for them.

The incident displays the company's "blatant disregard for safety", said FBI agent Douglas Korneski, who investigated the mask deal.

"Had it not been for the actions of the investigative team, this defendant would have put first responders, hospital employees, and other front line workers directly in harm's way with faulty equipment just to make a buck."

Profits over people

Unfortunately, this is only the latest incident in which the Chinese government or Chinese companies have attempted to profit from exporting faulty medical equipment during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

In Afghanistan, personal protective equipment (PPE) imported from China has put many Afghan doctors at risk, and as of Saturday (June 6), officials say the country is running out of hospital beds as suspected cases of coronavirus surge, warning "there is a disaster coming".

In Pakistan, hospitals are shunning PPE made in China after a series of infections and deaths of health workers treating COVID-19 patients.

In Central Asia, countries are trying to develop their own COVID-19 test kits amid news that similar products made in China have proven to be defective.

Elsewhere, a number of countries -- including Spain, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Croatia and Turkey -- have complained about substandard or faulty medical products shipped from China.

Two million protective masks purchased by Finland turned out to be unsuitable for use in hospitals, the Finnish government said April 8.

Before that, the Dutch government recalled 600,000 masks out of a Chinese shipment of 1.3 million that did not meet quality standards.

Spain rejected thousands of rapid-testing kits sent by an unauthorised Chinese company after it found in April that they were unreliable.

During March alone, China exported 3.86 billion masks, 37.5 million pieces of protective clothing, 16,000 ventilators and 2.84 million COVID-19 testing kits, Chinese customs official Jin Hai said in early April, with orders to more than 50 countries.

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