The European Commission said on Thursday it has suspended the delivery of 10 million Chinese masks to member states and the United Kingdom after two countries complained about the poor quality of the batches they received.
As part of its efforts to tackle the COVID-19 crisis, this month the European Union’s executive arm started dispatching the masks to healthcare workers.
After the first batch of 1.5 million masks was shipped to 17 of the 27 member states and the UK, Poland’s Health Minister Lukasz Szumowski said the 600,000 items Polish authorities received did not have European certificates and failed to comply with the medical standards required for their distribution.
“We have decided to suspend future deliveries of these masks,” Commission health spokesman Stefan De Keersmaecker said.
“We will then see what action needs to be taken if there is indeed a quality problem with these masks.”
According to De Keersmaecker, another member state, the Netherlands, has identified similar problems so far.
The whole stock of masks was purchased from a Chinese provider via an EU fund. It was set to be distributed in weekly instalments over six weeks.
Earlier this month, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit found that thousands of boxes of PPE were left stranded at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, China’s busiest freight hub.
De Keersmaecker insisted that the Commission scrupulously followed all control measures when it bought the masks, and verified they were usable.
“If necessary we will of course take any necessary legal action,” De Keersmaecker said.
He added that the commissioner for health and food safety, Stella Kyriakides, has alerted all the countries which have already received masks about the potential problems and asked them to provide feedback on their quality.
“It is of utmost importance that personal protective equipment sent out by the Commission is of very high quality,” De Keersmaecker said.
“That’s fundamental because that equipment is used by citizens and by professionals in the health sector.”