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Coronavirus: Germany caught up in multi-million-euro mask fraud scheme

Authorities in Germany have fallen victim to a multi-million-euro fraud involving masks much needed in the coronavirus pandemic, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Coronavirus: Germany caught up in multi-million-euro mask fraud scheme
File photo: DPA

North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state and one of the hardest hit, paid €14.7 million for some 10 million masks in March only to discover they did not exist, according to prosecutors in Traunstein,
Bavaria.

The German managing director of two distribution companies based in Zurich and Hamburg raised the alarm after realising he had been tricked.

According to the man's police report, he received an offer from companies allegedly based in Asia in mid-March to supply the masks and subsequently attracted the large order from North Rhine-Westphalia.

State authorities transferred €14.7 million to the company, which then made a €2.4 million down payment.

According to the Bavarian investigators, 52 vehicles had been lined up to pick up the coveted masks in the Netherlands and deliver them under police protection.

The distribution company has refunded €12.3 million to the state authorities.

However, it remains unclear whether the remaining €2.4 million, which has been frozen in foreign bank accounts, can be recovered.

Masks and other protective medical gear have become hot commodities worldwide as they are required by tens of thousands of health workers in the frontlines of the war against Covid-19.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday a lesson to be learnt from the pandemic was that Europe needed to develop self-sufficiency in the production of critical medical gear like masks.

“Regardless of the fact that this market is presently installed in Asia… we need a certain self-sufficiency, or at least a pillar of our own manufacturing” in Germany or elsewhere in the European Union, Merkel told reporters in Berlin.

Member comments

  1. Why is someone who is supposedly an established Distributer trusting an email from a Company they havev obviously never done business with before? THEY should be responsible for repaying the missing money, then it is THEIR problem to recover it from the fake Company

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COVID-19

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

The Covid pandemic is continuing to cause problems around Germany, with concerns that the number of patients needing treatment will rise in the coming weeks.

German health agency expects number of Covid ICU patients to rise

In its weekly Covid report, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) said that confirmed infections appeared to be rising in some German states, and falling in others.

But experts warned that the situation remained tense, with many infections not reported. 

Therefore, in the coming weeks, “hospitalisations, an increase in intensive care treatment and deaths are to be expected, especially among the elderly”, said the RKI.

People over the age of 80 “continue to be most affected by severe courses of the disease”, the experts said in their report. 

The incidence of infections is continuing to rise for this age group, and the number of outbreaks of Covid-19 in medical treatment facilities as well as in old people’s and nursing homes is going up.

READ ALSO: Which Covid rules are likely to return to Germany in autumn?

The number of patients with Covid-19 being treated in intensive care units (ICUs) is also rising slightly. In the previous week, the number was reported to be around 1,330. And on Thursday July 28th, 1,550 people were in ICUs in Germany with 484 receiving ventilation treatment, according to the DIVI intensive care register. 

The number of deaths in connection with the virus is currently around just over 400 per week. The RKI says this trend is a plateau.

When it comes to the overall picture of Covid in Germany, the RKI said there was a “sideways movement rather than a decreasing trend”.

Last week, the nationwide 7-day incidence decreased slightly compared to the previous week. The overall picture shows falling incidences in most western German states and Berlin, with incidences still rising slightly in the other eastern German states and Bavaria.

The RKI estimates there’s been a total of 800,000 to 1.5 million people with Covid (who also have symptoms) in the past week alone in Germany.

Last week experts warned that they expected the Covid situation to get worse in the coming weeks as many schools in Germany return after the summer break.

READ ALSO: Germany’s summer Covid wave set to get worse

The Omicron sub-variant BA.5, which has dominated in Germany since mid-June, has almost completely displaced other variants. It accounts for 89 percent of samples in the past week, the RKI said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach warned people against underestimating getting Covid again.

The SPD politician pointed out that it was very easy to become infected with BA.5 – even for those who were infected with a previous type.

He warned that many could become seriously ill or die, plus there’s the risk of picking up Long Covid.

“Therefore, we have to solve the problem not by constant infection, but by better vaccines,” Lauterbach said.

‘Call things as they are’

Lauterbach, meanwhile, defended himself against his choice of words when describing the possibility of a new dangerous Covid variant emerging in autumn. 

In an interview with Bild newspaper in April he said: “It is quite possible that we will get a highly contagious Omicron variant that is as deadly as Delta – that would be an absolute killer variant.”

He was slammed for his dramatic choice of words. 

This week Lauterbach said: “I use few vocabulary that is apocalyptic. But sometimes you have to call things as they are.”

If there were a virus that linked the contagion of the BA.5 variant with the severe course of a Delta variant, “that would be a killer variant”, he maintained.

But he stressed that he had “not said that such a variant is definitely coming, but that we have to be prepared for such a variant”.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister calls on under 60s to get next Covid jab

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