About 200,000 N95 masks were “confiscated” in Bangkok as they were being transferred between planes in Thailand, Berlin authorities told the BBC.
Andreas Geisel, the interior minister for Berlin state, described the diversion as “an act of modern piracy” and pressed to the German government to intervene and demand that Washington follows international trade rules. “This is no way to treat trans-Atlantic partners,” Geisel said. “Even in times of global crisis, there should be no Wild West methods.”
German reports said the masks had been made by a Chinese producer for the Minnesota-based 3M, but The Guardian reported that the company denied the incident occurred. “3M has no evidence to suggest 3M products have been seized. 3M has no record of any order of respirators from China for the Berlin police,” the company said in a statement. “We cannot speculate where this report originated.”
President Trump said on Friday he ordered US companies, including 3M, to stop exporting crucial medical products needed to fight coronavirus under the Korean-War-era Defense Production Act. “We need these items immediately for domestic use,” he said. ‘We have to have them.”
Trump said US authorities had taken custody of nearly 200,000 N95 respirators, 130,000 surgical masks and 600,000 gloves, but did not provide details about where they were seized.
Other European officials have also complained about the buying and diversion practices of the US. In France, for example, regional leaders say they are struggling to secure medical supplies as American buyers outbid them.
As the pandemic worsens, demand for crucial masks, gowns, ventilators and other supplies has surged worldwide. The shortage even drove New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to step in to procure masks using connections with the Chinese consulate and deliver then to Massachusetts and New York.
The president of the Île-de-France region, Valérie Pécresse, compared the scramble for masks to a “treasure hunt.”
“I found a stock of masks that was available and Americans — I’m not talking about the American government — but Americans, outbid us,” Pécresse said. “They offered three times the price and they proposed to pay up-front.”
COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has infected more than 1.1 million people worldwide and killed over 60,000 globally, according to Johns Hopkins University. The US has the most cases, with 278,458 confirmed infections and 7,159 deaths, according to totals posted early Saturday.
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