Protective face masks sent to Poland from China last month have failed safety tests commissioned by the health ministry. The masks were delivered amid much fanfare by the world’s largest aircraft, which was welcomed on the tarmac in Warsaw by the prime minister.
Soon after the arrival of the cargo, concerns began to be raised in the media that some of the equipment did not meet the required standards. The CEO of one of the state-owned firms that arranged the transport dismissed the reports “fake news”.
However, yesterday news website Onet reported that testing had confirmed that the masks do not meet FFP (filtering facepiece) requirements. Today, the health ministry responded by explaining that the masks could be used for other purposes, but that an investigation into the situation would be conducted.
The prime minister personally attended the arrival of the world's largest aircraft, the Antonov An-225 Mriya, in Warsaw today, as it brought large amounts of medical protective supplies from China organised by Polish state-owned firms https://t.co/nBPWuhG70I
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) April 14, 2020
Seven million masks arrived in Poland on April 14, as part of a shipment of 80 tonnes of equipment from China organised by metals giant KGHM and oil company Lotos, both state-controlled firms.
The goods arrived aboard the world’s largest aircraft, the Antonov An-225 Mriya. Use of the plane alone cost 1.6 million zloty ($380,000), while the purchased materials were worth $15 million, according to state broadcaster TVP.
The aircraft’s much-anticipated arrival at Warsaw’s Chopin Airport was personally attended by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and one of his deputy prime ministers, Jacek Sasin.
Speaking at the airport, Morawiecki thanked President Andrzej Duda for arranging the shipment with Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling the delivery “unprecedented”.
Poland's President @AndrzejDuda spoke by phone with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, during which he expressed appreciation for the efforts of China to combat the pandemic.
Special flights will now bring Chinese medical equipment to Poland https://t.co/rnP1zb02VM
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 25, 2020
But a week later, concerns were raised in an article published by Gazeta Wyborcza, a leading daily critical of the government, which claimed that the certificates for the masks may have been forged.
To support its claim, Wyborcza quoted Aleksander Twardowski, the president of Impero, a company which supplies equipment to healthcare facilities, saying that a photograph of the masks posted by the health ministry on Twitter showed that they were only surgical masks. These “do not provide full protection for doctors against COVID-19”, said Twardowski.
In response, KGHM’s CEO, Marcin Chludziński, called the newspaper’s story “classic fake news”. His firm issued a statement claiming that the masks met the recommendations of the European Commission, and asked for Wyborcza’s article to be corrected.
Chludziński also added that “the expectation that all the equipment will be obligatorily checked at laboratories in Poland is bizarre…Nobody wants to delay these processes with excessive regulations.”
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According to Onet, KGHM said it had conducted its own tests, with “very good” results. “The masks not only meet standards, [but] the protection they provide, according to tests, is higher than in the case of a comparable mask from a reputable company known on the European market,” stated the firm.
However, Onet discovered that tests organised by the health ministry found that the masks do not meet standards. When asked about these tests by Onet, the ministry confirmed the results.
KGHM responded to the findings by saying that they had immediately notified the recipients and distributors of the masks, and were “taking the fastest possible steps to properly execute the order”.
On Tuesday, health minister Łukasz Szumowski – who has been embroiled in a separate scandal regarding the purchase of defective masks from a family friend – said that KGHM’s masks had now been distributed for surgical procedures, in which they can “serve very well”, rather than being used for protection against the coronavirus, reports wPolityce.pl.
Szumowski also added that this incident was not an isolated one, with many organisations and firms across Europe ending up with defective goods, including the European Commission and one of Poland’s biggest charities, the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity (WOŚP).
“All of Europe, not just us, has been cheated in a ruthless manner,” said the health minister, quoted by Polsat News.
Main image credits: Kancelaria Premiera/Twitter
Juliette Bretan is a freelance journalist covering Polish and Eastern European current affairs and culture. Her work has featured on the BBC World Service, and in CityMetric, The Independent, Ozy, New Eastern Europe and Culture.pl.