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US firm denies 'piracy' claims over face masks

April 4, 2020

The US company at the center of allegations that thousands of face masks destined for Germany were confiscated has denied the accusations. The global lack of protective gear has sparked a flurry of similar incidents.

3M face masks
Image: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/Y. Cao

US conglomerate 3M on Saturday denied German claims that a shipment of 200,000 medical face masks ordered by the city of Berlin amid the coronavirus pandemic had been confiscated in the Thai capital, Bangkok, by US officials.

Read more: Grassroots project adapts snorkeling masks for use against COVID-19

3M told Germany's dpa news agency that it had no reports of masks being seized, nor any paperwork on such a shipment destined for Berlin.

The denial comes after Berlin's regional interior minister, Andreas Geisel, on Friday accused the US of "modern piracy" for having confiscated the FFP-2 respirators, intended for use by police officers in the capital. He said the masks, which were reportedly manufactured in China, had been paid for.

Multiple allegations

In recent days, French politicians have also accused unidentified US purchasers of buying up face masks ordered by France, with the leader of the coronavirus-stricken Grand Est region saying a planeload of the masks was bought on the tarmac in Shanghai just before the aircraft took off to deliver them.

US officials have also denied these accusations.

There have also been reports of masks destined for Canada being diverted, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking ministers to investigate.

3M responds to Trump criticism

This comes after US President Donald Trump announced that federal health authorities were recommending cloth face coverings to help stem the spread of the virus in his country.

Trump said, however, that he would not be following the recommendation himself.

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3M has been forced by the US federal administration to supply the country with as many medical-grade masks as possible. The conglomerate has hit back at criticism by Trump that it was not doing enough to ensure a supply to the US, saying it had been producing as many masks as possible "over the last several weeks and months."

It also said a ban on exporting masks to Canada and Latin America raised "significant humanitarian implications" and could cause other countries to retaliate by withholding supplies to the US.

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