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Germany is investigating the loss of about 6 million masks ordered to aid health workers against the coronavirus pandemic after the protective gear purportedly went missing at an airport in Kenya last week, a strange disappearance that authorities in the African nation have labeled “fake news.”
German customs officials ordered the shipment of FFP2 masks, which was supposed to arrive in Germany on March 20, from a German company, Reuters reported. It was unclear why the masks were in Kenya.
“The authorities are trying to find out what happened,” a German defense ministry spokeswoman told the outlet, confirming a report first published by German news site Spiegel Online.
The Spiegel Online report called the protective mask business a “gold mine worldwide” due to their demand amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, likening it to the trade of rare spices.
“Insiders, therefore, suspect that after the deal with the procurement office, the manufacturer might get a better price for its goods and sell the masks there (in Kenya),” the outlet said in its report. “But it is also possible that criminals stole the delivery at the airport and now sold it profitably in Kenya.”
The Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) said an investigation was carried out immediately following the media reports on the mask shipment vanishing, although it concluded that no such cargo had passed through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in the past two weeks.
“We, therefore, wish to inform the public that we are treating this report of alleged disappearance of six million type FFP2 protective masks as fake news and that our cargo section continues with normal operations,” the KAA said in a statement.
German officials told news outlets there was no financial loss on the shipment, and they were continuing to investigate the matter.
“What exactly happened, whether this a matter of theft or a provider who isn’t serious, is being cleared up by customs,” a German government source told Reuters.
Germany has at least 33,952 coronavirus cases, the fifth largest in the world, and reported 171 deaths. Protective gear has been in short supply in Europe, where the immense number of cases has overwhelmed hospitals and health workers.
The virus has been relatively slow to reach Africa but has now increased to more than 2,400 cases across the continent. Kenya has so far reported 25 confirmed cases and no deaths.
Many African countries have already imposed restrictions to slow the virus’ spread.
Kenya closed all bars and restaurants on Sunday and halted all services at churches and mosques. A suspension on all international passenger flights went into effect Wednesday and border posts to neighboring Uganda were closed, except for the transport of cargo.