China has seized 31 million fake face masks amid crisis

A worker at a factory in Nanjing sorting face masks as production ramps up to meet demand.
PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - China's crisis has sparked a thriving black market in fake medical supplies, forcing a crackdown from the authorities who have seized 31 million counterfeit or substandard face masks.

Fraudsters have begun producing illegal products to satisfy runaway demand as masks and disinfectant remain in short supply and manufacturers struggle to keep up.

In one case this month, swindlers took customers' cash and gave them fake delivery notes for masks that did not exist, Chinese security officials said.

PANIC BUYING

Mr Du Hangwei, deputy minister of public security, told a press conference yesterday that masks and other products worth 174 million yuan (S$35 million) had been seized and police had dealt with 22,000 criminal cases related to the virus epidemic.

As the country slowly returns to work after weeks ground to a halt, the authorities are now stepping up support for companies that can convert their factories to produce bona fide supplies.

Labour shortage and soaring demand, however, mean demand is unlikely to be met.

Mr Du promised that the authorities would continue to crack down on price hikes and fakes.

He also said 49 police or auxiliary officers had died on duty during the virus outbreak but did not offer details.

Sichuan provincial authorities said selling substandard masks was a crime punishable by up to life in prison.

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