Do you remember the photographs of long queues of tanks carrying coffins out of Bergamo, Italy in March 2020, because they had no space for those who had died of COVID? And the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian tweeting a (fake) clip and writing: “In Rome, with the Chinese anthem playing, some Italians chanted ‘Grazie, Cina!’ on their balconies, and their neighbours applauded along”?
And do you also recall the Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio sharing enthusiastic posts on his Facebook profile of Chinese doctors and medical supplies arriving in Italy, and thanking China for it?
It turns out now, that the COVID deaths of at least some of the many doctors, healthcare workers and even ordinary citizens, could have been avoided perhaps. It also seems that the Chinese ‘abetted’ the spread of COVID-19 in Italy.
How Did Italy Come to Import Such a Huge Number of ‘Faulty’ Masks from China?
According to evidence gathered by the Prosecutor of Gorizia, half of the face masks that the former Italian government imported from China, were faulty. One in two reportedly does not filter sufficiently.
The numbers are frightening.
Since the beginning of the pandemic until July 2020, Italy imported 300 million FFp3 and 231 million FFp3 face masks, almost all from China.
According to Gorizia judges, 250 millions of those, more than half of the masks imported at the peak of the pandemic — mainly to protect doctors, nurses and people working in retirement homes — are ‘fake’. They do not stop the virus; they are practically of no use.
Why Did Italy Abruptly Stop Importing Chinese Masks ‘Without Reason’?
The import of Chinese masks stopped abruptly post-July 2020, with no apparent reason. We know now that the Former Special Commissioner for COVID, Domenico Arcuri, was forced to terminate a contract with a Chinese company that had brought 11 million devices to Italy, in August 2020.
By the time the masks were found to be in violation of EU standards, 5 million masks had already been placed in the market.
Then, in February 2021, investigations in Rome exposed another scandal — the prosecutors called it the ‘Chinese job’.
The Protezione Civile, another Italian administrative body, had opened up a credit line of 1.25 billion euros to three Chinese consortia, for the purchase of 800 million face masks, with the intermediation of a couple of Italian companies (some of them linked to politicians).
How ‘Faulty’ Chinese Masks Got ‘Certified’
According to the police in Rome, these companies: “received commissions amounting to tens of millions euros from the Chinese consortia, that were the assignees of the supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) (in particular, surgical masks and of the FFP2 and FFP3 type )”.
The go-ahead for those masks was given by the Scientific Technical Committee, which relied on documents submitted by the Chinese companies for evaluation.
It has been easy, for the COVID ‘jackals’, to move into a grey zone created by this public health emergency. At the beginning of the pandemic, in fact, the Italian government decided — given the scarcity of PPEs in Italy — to allow the import and trade of masks without the CE mark of compliance with European Union (EU) directives. This offered a loophole, allowing for masks and other PPE to be certified by private bodies.
This paved the way for two parallel markets and a huge number of scams.
- First, a market of importers, who, in contact with China (the first manufacturer of masks in the world) ordered large quantities of masks.
- And second, a market of certifiers, some of them ill-equipped and clueless about the job, and often, easily corruptible.
The documentation for most of the ‘fake’ Chinese masks was, in fact, signed by the Istanbul-based company Universal Certification. Apparently a ‘very solid’ company among the list of EU-accredited certification companies.
Now, the company is under investigation, both in Rome and in Brussels — by the OLAF (Office européen de lutte antifraude) — the EU’s main anti-fraud body.
According to OLAF, the largest consignments of Chinese PPE imported into Europe were passed by Universal Certification.
The reason, according to them, is very simple: this company was quick to respond to the Chinese firms that were seeking certification. Fact is, this Istanbul-based company has direct links with China, and, according to the Italian Guardia di Finanza, much of the processes necessary to obtain the EU certification were subcontracted from Istanbul to Asian laboratories that were — one way or another — linked to China.
So, thank you again, China.
(Francesca Marino is a journalist and a South Asia expert who has written ‘Apocalypse Pakistan’ with B Natale. Her latest book is ‘Balochistan — Bruised, Battered and Bloodied’. She tweets at @francescam63. This is an opinion piece, and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)