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Kassensturz reports on incorrectly declared masks

When the world was hit by the coronavirus, economic landscapes changed forever. Tourism worldwide tanked, online shopping boomed and​one single item grew ​into a hundred billion dollar industry virtually overnight, hygiene masks. But this sudden demand for masks opened up an opportunity for dishonest businesses to abuse the new market, and make a killing on all but unregulated products.

Before the pandemic, many countries opted-out of onshore manufacturing (where they faced high labour costs), and opted-in to building supply chains with Chinese manufacturers. Together they produce everything from smartphones to, you guessed it, hygiene masks. Though the relationship between local companies and offshore manufacturers isn’t bad, the sudden need to import such large volumes of PPE left the EU little room for regulation.

With little to no locally produced masks on offer, the European Union was faced with a severe shortage of PPE (personal protective equipment) and a decision to make. So, Switzerland and other EU countries started importing non-certified Chinese made masks en masse, to meet demand. Originally designed to protect against air pollution, rather than viruses, a huge chunk of these masks were (and still are) incorrectly declared and incorrectly labelled. This misleads consumers into thinking they’re buying medical-grade products. Legally, these masks ​shouldbe clearly marked ‘not for medical use’, but many still aren’t.

Luckily, it seems that the European Union and lawmakers are finally catching up to the pandemic. Now implementing certifications to alert consumers to hygiene masks that could leave them vulnerable to the novel coronavirus.

These ​unassuming ​non-woven material masks look, from the outside, all the same. But, when you inspect them a bit closer, there are vital differences to these near identical products. The quality of fabric used or the manufacturing process can mean the difference between a facemask that can protect you from the coronavirus, versus one that cannot. As a consumer, what you can do is thoroughly screen the packaging or website before you buy.

Now, officially, in Europe, the golden seal of approval for hygiene masks is a certification according to the testing standard ‘EN 14683’, and can be easily spotted on websites or product packaging in the form of the ‘CE’ mark.

There are three ‘types’ that fall under the EN 14683 testing standard, (all considered medical grade) which can provide varying levels of protection against viruses and bacteria.

Type 1: Filter 95% of bacteria

Type 2: Filter 98% of bacteria

Type 2R: Fitler 98% of bacteria with added splash protection

Swissmedic, the medical authority in charge of drugs and medical devices in Switzerland, have acknowledged that for the consumer, the legitimacy of masks can be misleading. They encourage all consumers to thoroughly vet their hygiene masks before use, and to report any incorrectly declared products directly to Swissmedic.

Medisupply diligently ensures all of our products are properly declared and certified under the EN 14683 testing standard. Our PPE equipment comes through a legitimate supply chain, and has type 2 certifications.