German official accuses US of ‘Wild West’ tactics to divert shipment of masks

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Berlin reported that 200,000 face masks requested by the city’s police force were never delivered, with a German official accusing the U.S. government of using “Wild West methods” to cause the diversion. 

The FFP-2 masks were reportedly already paid for by Berlin police and came from U.S. firm 3M shipping out of China, according to The Washington Post.

The masks only made it to Bangkok before the shipment was “confiscated,” according to Andreas Geisel, senator for the interior in Berlin, Reuters reported.

“We consider this an act of modern piracy,” Geisel said in a statement. “This is not how you deal with transatlantic partners. Even in times of global crisis, Wild West methods shouldn’t rule.”

Geisel said that the implication for these diversions is “related to the U.S. government’s ban on mask exports.”

Masks have become an essential tool to protect front-line health care workers during the coronavirus pandemic. 

An anonymous Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official told Reuters that U.S. companies and the administration were paying above market price for medical supplies and equipment coming from overseas countries, often outbidding other European buyers, according to Reuters.

The official said the U.S. would not halt purchases on equipment until “we have too much,” citing that imports could continue into August.

3M, the U.S. company behind the masks, said Friday that the White House mandated the company to halt shipments of respirators to Canada and Latin America.

A 3M spokeswoman responded to The Hill in a statement, saying that “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. We cannot speculate where this report originated,” the spokeswoman added.

A spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said the agency is conducting searches for medical supplies imported from abroad, citing that disasters often lead to inflated prices for essential goods.

“If it causes some sort of a supply chain disruption, you’re going to see costs rise for an essential commodity,” Lea Crager, spokeswoman for FEMA, said. “It just happens.”

The Hill reached out to the White House and DHS for comment, but did not immediately heard back.

A Brazilian health official also reported missing equipment and abandoned orders from China after the U.S. government deployed 20 cargo planes to the country to purchase the same material goods.

“Our purchases, which we expected to complete in order to be able to supply, many were dropped,” said Brazilian health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta.

Brazil managed to successfully purchase equipment Thursday at the cost of 1.2 billion reais ($228 million), but orders will not be delivered for at least a month.

Updated: April 4 at 2:10 p.m.

Tags 3M Coronavirus COVID-19 Federal Emergency Management Agency Government Respirator Reuters United States Department of Homeland Security

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