China cracking down on fake face masks

China's top market regulator has stepped up inspections on face mask price hikes and is cracking down on illegal production and sales as part of efforts to curb the spread of pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus.

Gan Lin, deputy chief of the State Administration for Market Regulation, said at a news conference held by the State Council Information Office on Monday that the administration has been strengthening efforts to ensure the price and quality of related medical products.

As of Saturday, market regulation authorities had dispatched 390,000 people nationwide to improve supervision on prices of epidemic protective equipment and punish illegal activities such as hoarding or fabricating information about price hikes, she said.

A drugstore in Beijing's Fengtai district, for example, was fined 3 million yuan ($427,000) recently for increasing the price of face masks to 850 yuan per box, almost six times the normal price.

The administration has also spared no efforts to crack down on the production and sale of unqualified, counterfeit or expired anti-virus face masks in a bid to safeguard public interests, Gan said.

With people across the country stockpiling face masks to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus on one hand and many pharmacies and e-commerce platforms running out of stock on the other hand, some factories have been fabricating medical masks.

In Foshan, Guangdong province, local authorities have shut down a factory making medical masks without a license and seized over 175,000 fake masks, together with three pieces of production equipment and over 80 boxes of materials.

According to the Ministry of Public Security, the ministry's food and drug crime investigation bureau has arrested 75 suspects and seized more than 1.42 million problematic face masks as of Saturday.

For the control and prevention of the novel coronavirus-caused pneumonia, the administration has also taken aim at the sales and shipment of wild animals as the geographical distribution of infection cases in Hubei's provincial capital Wuhan-the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak-indicated a close relationship between the outbreak and illegal sales of wildlife in a market.

Wild animals that are likely to carry the novel coronavirus pose grave health risks to the public, Gan said at video conference on Sunday. As a result, the local market regulation authority is enforcing strong measures against wildlife markets and investigating and punishing violators to cut off the source of viruses.

The administration, together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the National Forestry and Grassland Administration, issued a joint statement recently that trading of wild animals will be suspended nationwide, and the ban will continue until the epidemic has ended.

The administration will strengthen inspections on marketplaces, supermarkets and dining places, as well as enhance the monitoring and supervision of e-commerce sites, Gan said, adding that it will work closely with the public security department to investigate and punish any businesses and operators breaching the ban.

According to the Ministry of Public Security, police forces in the provinces of Hubei, Fujian, Yunnan, Jiangxi and Sichuan have so far investigated nearly 60 cases of illegally purchasing, trafficking and selling wild animals and confiscated over 5,600 items, as well as 500 kilograms of wild animal products.

(Source: China Daily)