Netherlands recalls 600,000 face masks from China due to low quality

Stuart Lau

Dutch officials have recalled 600,000 face masks manufactured in China because they did not meet quality standards, the government’s health ministry said on Saturday.

The news shocked frontline medical staff in the Netherlands, who rely on high-quality products to protect them from contracting Covid-19, Dutch public broadcaster NOS said.

Half of the shipment of 1.3 million supposedly top-of-the-line face masks – known as N95 in the United States and Hong Kong – had already been distributed to doctors and nurses treating the most critical Covid-19 patients, the government said.

N95 masks – known as FFP2 in Europe or KN95 in mainland China – play a critical role in health care, as they are supposed to block over 90 per cent of airborne particles that may carry the coronavirus.

The Dutch experience is not the first time that European countries have had problems with coronavirus-related medical equipment manufactured in China.

Last week, Spain announced that hundreds of thousands of rapid test kits sent by a Chinese company were unreliable, following similar reports in the Czech Republic.

According to the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport, the masks did not fit well and the filters did not function properly. It was not immediately clear whether the batch in question was given to the Netherlands as a donation or came through a commercial transaction.

“Due to shortages, we have found ourselves in a situation where the only protective equipment available does not meet the highest standards. This is an issue in all countries,” according to a statement released by the ministry.

“Last Saturday, the first shipment from a Chinese manufacturer was delivered in part. These are masks with a KN95 quality certificate.”

The ministry was notified by inspectors that the quality of this shipment “did not meet the [quality] criteria” for the product. “Part of this shipment was delivered to health care providers, while the rest of the cargo was immediately put on hold and was not distributed further,” the ministry said.

“A second test also showed that the masks did not meet quality standards. It has now been decided that the whole shipment would not be used. New shipments will undergo an additional test.”

The problem with the Chinese masks was first discovered by hospitals that received them, with health workers finding the masks did not fit properly, casting doubt on the quality of the product.

FFP2 face masks are supposed to have a filter efficiency of 92 per cent, according to European standards. 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.

“When they were delivered to our hospital, I immediately rejected those masks,” a person from a hospital who received a batch of defective masks was quoted as saying by NOS. “If the masks do not fit properly, the virus particles can simply pass through. We did not use them. They are unsafe for our people.”

A spokesperson for the Catharina Hospital in the Dutch city of Eindhoven said the batch they received was rejected immediately. “It is not just this time, there is a lot of junk on the market. There are people trying to take advantage of the current crisis, at high prices,” the spokesperson said.

The Chinese embassy in the Netherlands could not be immediately reached for comment.

Last week, Madrid stopped using a rapid Covid-19 test kit made by a Chinese company after research suggested it was not accurate enough.

While the Chinese company claimed its test kits had an accuracy rate of 80 per cent, the Spanish Society of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Microbiology found that they got the results wrong 70 per cent of time.

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