The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented, global demand for personal protective equipment (PPE), with several countries placing export bans on the sale of PPE and costs increasing by up to 1000%.
In the past month, alerts for PPE placed on the European Safety Gate portal have included a recall of hundreds of thousands of respiratory protective masks manufactured in China, with the risks deemed serious due to poor quality and the particle/filter retention of the material being insufficient.
All of the alerts on protective masks on Safety Gate from the last week were placed by Belgium, with the equipment due to be issued to frontline medical employees to help protect them from airborne particles that may carry the coronavirus.
While masks being imported and sold in Europe must meet the Personal Protective Equipment Regulation, the sudden rise in demand has seen shortages filled by sub-par equipment – an issue faced by many countries, according to a statement released by the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport following a spate of recalls in The Netherlands we recently covered in a recent blog.
As we can imagine, any issue that may put key workers at even more risk will be picked up and amplified by the media, as was the case with the Chinese mask shipments. As per European standards, masks are supposed to have a safety level of FFP2, meaning they have a filter efficiency of 92 per cent, however Dutch broadcaster NOS cited a source saying, “that the Chinese face masks were “not FFP2 quality nor of the lesser safety level of FFP1 – some sort of FFP0.8 at best”, meaning they had less than half the filter efficiency required for the FFP2 designation”.
The increased need for PPE is also giving rise to scammers preying on decreased supply as existing manufactures scramble to up production to meet a new global demand. The scams are sophisticated and include counterfeit masks often made in unsterile sweatshops labelled with names of well-known medical supply companies and forged certification stamps, as reported by The Independent. Countries producing the illicit masks include textiles factories in India, China and Turkey - with 1 million masks seized in one just Istanbul sweatshop.
We know already that just one recall can cast a shadow over an entire industry or country, a sentiment shared by Celal Sadrettin Dai, chair of the disciplinary board of the Massiad Marmara Medical Device Manufacturers and Suppliers Association, who stated, “this is a very big danger for the Turkish medical device industry. Now there’s an image against the industry.”
For the countries effected, the overspill effects a small minority of criminals may have on the industry’s broader image may result in lasting reputational damage. How they respond to the crisis will be under a microscope and communications must be clear and consistent with full transparency.
It’s also something that retailers and consumers should be aware of as demand only continues to grow over the coming months. Indeed, countries such as Germany and the UK have already - or are considering - a mandatory policy on masks to be worn in public areas such as shared transport.
As always, our advice to consumers is to do your research and make sure you’re purchasing from a regulated seller. Check Safety Gate for up-to-date notifications to further protect yourself. However, we know that this is not fool-proof and we expect recalls of PPE to rise in the immediate future as a new normal is established and the world struggles to catch up.