Authorities in the Lazio region, in which the Italian capital Rome is located, have protested after Polish customs officials allegedly blocked the export of face masks to Italy.

(Update: the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has denied the story, and claims that the Italian side has also confirmed it is false. We have changed the title of the article and will continue to update the story at the bottom of the page as information becomes available.)

“It is serious and absurd that 23,000 FFP2 masks bought by the Lazio region were seized at customs in Poland,” said Alessio D’Amato, head of the department for healthcare in Lazio, quoted by Polish news website Onet.

D’Amato announced that the Civil Protection Department and Italian diplomatic services had been notified. He thanked the Italian ambassador in Warsaw and foreign ministry for their “immediate interest” in the case, and called on Poland to “return to Lazio the unjustly taken equipment”.

Under the official “epidemic state” that Poland’s government declared on Friday, businesses that wish to export certain goods – including protective equipment and disinfecting agents – must first notify their province’s governor. The governor can, if they deem it necessary, apply to the prime minister to prohibit the export, reports Onet.

There has been no confirmation, however, as to whether the masks were sold by a Polish firm, or if instead they were simply being transported through Poland.

Earlier this week, Italy overtook China as the country with the largest number of deaths from coronavirus. It has reported over 53,000 cases, resulting in almost 5,000 deaths.

With the country’s health system struggling to cope, equipment and doctors have arrived from China to provide support. Today, Russia announced that it would also send medical help to Italy.

Poland, meanwhile, had confirmed 563 cases of coronavirus as of Sunday afternoon, including 7 patients who have died. The Polish government moved early to introduce tough measures – including school closures, the suspension of flights and an entry ban on foreigners – to mitigate the spread of the epidemic.

There have also been concerns in Poland that the country is lacking necessary equipment to deal with the epidemic. Doctors at the hospital which treated the first confirmed Polish coronavirus case complained of lacking protective gear, including masks. State-run firms have stepped in to produce millions of litres of disinfectant.

Update 1: on Sunday evening, the Polish foreign ministry tweeted that the story was “fake news” and that no transport of masks from Poland to Italy had been blocked.

Update 2: on Monday, the Italian embassy in Warsaw tweeted that the masks would soon be delivered to Italy and thanked the Polish authorities for their cooperation. The statement did not, however, deny the original claim that the masks had been seized by Polish customs.

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