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Coronavirus: Czech Republic seizes more than 100,000 face masks sent by China to help Italy tackle spread

'We are working with both countries to make sure that Italy will not lose out on anything,' says Czech interior minister after masks confiscated in error

Zoe Tidman
Sunday 22 March 2020 15:37
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The Czech Republic has seized more than 100,000 face masks which China had sent to Italy to help tackle the country's coronavirus outbreak, authorities have said.

Around 680,000 protective masks were confiscated, as well as thousands of respirators, from speculators, according to an article shared by the Czech health minister.

The company involved was supposed to provide the equipment to health professionals, but raised the price at the last minute, the interior minister said.

However, it turned out that some of these seized masks were destined for Italy - one of the worst-hit countries in the world by the coronavirus pandemic – as a gift from China.

“Customs officers in Lovosice seized hundreds of thousands of masks”, Jan Hamáček tweeted. “Unfortunately the following investigation revealed a small part of these were a Chinese present to Italy.”

He said: “We are working with both countries to make sure that Italy will not lose out on anything.”

The Czech foreign minister has said that 110,000 face masks will be sent to Italy from their own stock while the police investigation is ongoing, the Italian embassy to Prague told The Independent.

This matches the number of face masks meant for Italy that were seized, according to the embassy.

The delivery will be sent before the police finish their investigation “in light of the growing need for medical supplies in Italy”, their statement said.

Italy has seen the highest rate of coronavirus infections in Europe with more than 50,000 confirmed cases, and has gone into lockdown as authorities work to combat coronavirus.

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The number of people infected with the virus surpassed 1,000 in the Czech Republic on Sunday, although no deaths have been reported to date.

The country received its first batch of medical equipment from China this weekend following a highly-publicised hunt for supplies amid complaints from health professionals about respirator shortages, and reports that people have been sewing their own masks at home.

“I am convinced that after Saturday, we will have the worst behind us in terms of protective gear, and that we have a system how to deliver them to the Czech Republic regularly,” the interior minister said.

He said the shipment was the first in a series Chinese deliveries which should continue over the next six weeks.

The government has ordered people to cover their mouths and noses in public as of Thursday in a bid to combat the spread of Covid-19, a flu-like disease that can turn into pneumonia.

Politicians have shared images of meeting rooms full of people wearing face masks.

The coronavirus outbreak, which originated in China towards the end of last year, has since spread to 188 countries around the world.

More than 300,000 people have been infected with the virus internationally, with around 13,000 patient deaths, according to Sunday’s figures.

Additional reporting by agencies

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