Local authorities in Germany have been left red-faced after unknown fraudsters ‘sold’ them a nonexistent batch of face masks. The World Health Organization (WHO), meanwhile, says the garment is mostly useless against Covid-19.
Face masks have become a precious commodity amid the global health crisis, with countries snatching shipments from under each other’s noses, prices skyrocketing and many opting for homemade variants. Loath to miss an opportunity for profit, however, criminal minds have found ways to dip into the burgeoning market of face protection gear as well.
North Rhine-Westphalia, the most densely-populated and one of the worst coronavirus-hit German states, has been duped out €2.4 ($ 2.61) million in a large-scale face mask scam, German prosecutors said Tuesday. The state’s authorities shelled out a whopping €14.7 [$ 15.9] million for a shipment of masks last month – but it turns out they never existed.
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The funds were transferred to a German distribution company that believed it was sourcing its masks from Asia-based firms, which claimed to have a large batch of protective gear in stock.
The company paid €2.4 million upfront, while 52 vehicles sat on standby to pick up the shipment in the Netherlands. Yet, the order never came as the “suppliers” soon disappeared, cutting off all contacts and going incommunicado.
While authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia were able to recover €13.3 million from the deal, the fate of the down payment is uncertain, frozen in foreign bank accounts, and it’s unclear whether Germany will be able to get the funds back.
Meanwhile, though masks are necessary for doctors and nurses fighting the virus on the frontline, as well as for those who are already infected and their caregivers, they make little difference for healthy people, especially when they are outdoors, WHO said in its latest guidance.
For healthy individuals, using masks is not only “insufficient to provide an adequate level of protection,” but it “may create a false sense of security” leading to ignoring other, more effective disease prevention measures, such as frequent hand-washing or self-isolation, the organization said.
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“The wide use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not supported by current evidence and carries uncertainties and critical risks,” the WHO document reads.
The WHO guidelines, however, clash with the guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urging Americans to cover their faces. Still, the CDC said that high-quality face masks should be reserved for healthcare workers, while the general population is advised to cover their mouth and nose with something – like a piece of cloth – while they are in public.
The coronavirus epidemic plaguing the globe has already affected more than 1.4 million people worldwide, while over 82,000 have succumbed to the lethal disease. The US is the undisputed ‘leader’ in the pandemic, with nearly 400,000 people infected and over 12,000 dead.
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