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US accused of seizing face mask shipments

April 3, 2020

Unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, officials worldwide have been scrambling for protective medical gear. Germany has accused the US of competing for vital health care resources with "wild west" methods.

Face masks in a box
Image: Getty Images/AFP/R. Utrecht

Germany accused the US on Friday of confiscating thousands of protective face masks that Berlin authorities have already paid for, calling it "an act of modern piracy."

Berlin Interior Minister Andreas Geisel said US officials intercepted a shipment of 200,000 face masks in Bangkok intended for use during the coronavirus outbreak.

The state of Berlin had ordered FFP2-class respirators for Berlin police officers, who continue to operate during the crisis.

The chairman of the SPD parliamentary group, Rolf Mützenich, said the confiscation was "illegal" and called for the incident to be clarified.

Read moreAngela Merkel sees 'bit of hope,' but keeps coronavirus lockdown in place

"Illegal methods must not be used when procuring protective masks. This is particularly true between partners … even if they are in short supply," Mützenich told DW.

"If the reports on such events are confirmed, the federal government must address the issue and call for the consequences," he said.

'Ruled by Wild West'

Geisel said the state of Berlin had purchased the masks from a US company, but according to Germany's Tagesspiegel newspaper, they had been manufactured in China.

"Even in times of global crisis, we should not be ruled by Wild West methods," Geisel said, urging Germany's federal government to put pressure on the US to abide by international rules.

Read moreAs the coronavirus triggers a global economic crisis, just how bad could it get?

US multinational conglomerate 3M, a mass producer of health equipment, was also forced  by Washington to supply the US with as many type-N85 respirator masks as possible.

US criticized by France and Canada

French politicians have also recently accused the US of buying up medical protective gear including face masks in China that had been meant for France.

Valerie Pecresse, president of the hard-hit Ile-de-France region, said this week that a shipment of protective masks were snatched at the last minute by "Americans who made a higher bid," French news agency AFP reported.

"The Americans pay cash sight unseen, which obviously can be more tempting for people just looking to make money off the entire world's distress," she said. Pecresse did not give further details on the buyers.

Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday he felt "concerned" by a report that a mask order arrived smaller than expected and that some of it was bought by "a higher bidder."

Read moreCoronavirus: What are the lockdown measures across Europe?

"We understand that the needs in the US are very extensive, but it's the same in Canada, so we have to work together," Trudeau said.

Most countries worldwide, unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, don't have the capacity to manufacture the millions of masks needed on a daily basis for health workers alone.

Many governments are turning to China and other Asian manufactures to meet the demands for medical gear.

mvb/dr (AFP, dpa)

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