680,000 respirators seized from Czech industrial zone before they could be exported by speculators

Hundreds of thousand of respirators have been seized by Czech officials from a warehouse in the Ústí nad Labem region

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston Published on 18.03.2020 16:06:09 (updated on 18.03.2020) Reading time: 2 minutes

Hundreds of thousand of respirators have been seized from a warehouse in the Ústí nad Labem region, by Czech officials. It is suspected that they were going to be exported out of the Czech Republic, in violation of the rules of the current state of emergency.

Currently, the Czech Republic is suffering from an acute shortage of respirators and masks due to the spread of novel coronavirus.

Some of the 680,000 respirators and 28,000 face masks located in the warehouse will be used by the local Usti Region and the rest will be sent to Prague, Ústí nad Labem Governor Oldřich Bubeníček (KSČM) said, adding that they would be distributed to police and firefighters.

The protective gear was originally destined for the Czech Ministry of Health but the company selling them tried to back out of the original contract and increase the price five-fold.

“Police intervened against mask speculators. At my request, the governor of the Ústí nad Labem Region, in cooperation with Czech Police seized almost 700 thousand respirators from a company that was supposed to supply them to health care professionals, but at the last minute tried to increase the price. #together we can handle it,” Hamáček said on Twitter. The Czech Police are part of the Interior Ministry.

Bubeníček added that there was a suspicion that the protective items might be exported from the Czech Republic.

Customs officers inspected the warehouse and confirmed the presence of the masks. Bubeníček, on the urging of the Interior Ministry, seized the protective equipment and paid the firm that was storing them the usual price for it.

“There is no way for anyone to enrich themselves so immorally in a situation where both health professionals and ordinary citizens are at risk of life. That is why I asked the governor Oldřich Bubeníček to act in accordance with the law and secure the masks,” Interior Minister Jan Hamáček said.

The state of emergency for the coronavirus does not give the Czech government the right to seize goods, but the Crisis Act allows regional authorities to do so. That is why the Interior Ministry had to ask for local help.

Health Minister Adam Vojtěch (for ANO) thanked to Czech Police. “This situation shows how complicated the situation in the market for protective equipment is. While buying respirators, we found speculators. They wanted to capitalize on our efforts to provide protection for citizens. We reported the case to @PolicieCZ, thank you for the quick response,” he said on Twitter.

The Ústí nad Labem region will keep 380,000 respirators and the remaining 300,000 have been sent to Prague. Half of the face masks will go to the Interior Ministry and the other half will be distributed in the Ústí region.

There is an acute shortage of face masks and respirators in the Czech Republic, though several million are expected to arrive over the weekend.

As of midnight, March 18, it will be mandatory to wear a face covering outside of the home in both outdoor in indoor public spaces.

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