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Government purchases of masks under scrutiny

Two young Swiss entrepreneurs allegedly sold masks to the federal government that were unusable. © Keystone / Christian Beutler

An internal investigation has been launched into the Swiss army pharmacy’s purchases of masks, including some 700,000 of poor quality according to some Swiss media reports.

This content was published on January 31, 2021 - 13:45
Tamdia/NZZ/jdp

Earlier this week, an army spokesperson confirmedExternal link to Swiss news agency Tamedia that Viola Amherd, who heads the department of Defense, Civil Protection and Sport, commissioned the internal audit department to look into the army’s procurement of essential medical goods during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This comes amid criticism based on a TamediaExternal link report that the army pharmacy bought 700,000 FFP2 masks – which are supposed to have higher level protection than simple hygiene masks. According to the Tamedia story, some masks turned out to be poor quality and had to be destroyed.

The army pharmacy bought them from a company called Emix run by two young entrepreneurs who had bought the masks from a company called Chemipharm. Thanks to contacts in China, Emix shifted its business from selling cosmetic products to importing protective gear when the pandemic hit early last year.

Switzerland was one of many countries in Europe that purchased masks from Emix.

The entrepreneurs behind the company are in the spotlight because they' bought luxury cars after the deal.

In April, the federal government eased import conditions for personal protective equipment in response to the pandemic. Importers of respiratory protection masks also benefited from the simplified testing. The Spiez laboratory had also become involved in testing some of the masks in a rush to make them available. 

The German-language paper NZZamSonntagExternal link also noted that there are some discrepancies in reports about the quality tests. The Emix entrepeneurs deny selling defective masks.

The army pharmacy has procured about 300 million protective masks on behalf of the federal government since the pandemic began. The results of the internal investigation are expected this spring.

This story has been updated with some corrections as the price and quality of the masks are subject to dispute.

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