SINGAPORE - In a first here, the authorities have arrested a 34-year-old man for his alleged involvement in the online sales of suspected counterfeit respirators, after more than 41,000 units of the device were seized during an operation.
The medical-grade equipment is important for protecting healthcare workers in the fight against Covid-19. The man is believed to have procured them from foreign sources, the police and Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said in a joint statement on Wednesday (April 21).
N95 masks were among the items seized, said HSA.
Last May, HSA removed more than 1,700 online listings of products making false Covid-19 related claims. Almost half (47 per cent) involved medical devices such as test kits and respirators.
Over 1,600 warning letters were issued to sellers and companies hawking such goods, with sellers taking advantage of people's concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The suspected trademark-infringing respirators, with an estimated street value of over $201,000, were seized during an operation on April 12 led by the Criminal Investigation Department and supported by HSA officers.
"Tests are being conducted on the seized respirators to ascertain if they are counterfeit," the joint statement said.
Under the Health Products Act, anyone found guilty of importing or supplying counterfeit health products can be fined up to $100,000, and imprisoned for a maximum of three years.
Investigations are ongoing.
The police said they take a serious view of intellectual property rights infringements and will not hesitate to take tough action against perpetrators who profit at the expense of legitimate businesses and consumers.
Under the Trade Marks Act, those convicted of selling or distributing goods with falsely applied trademarks may be fined a maximum of $100,000, and jailed for up to five years.
"Consumers are advised to avoid buying health products such as respirators from dubious or unfamiliar sources," the joint statement added.
These sources, which include unknown online sites, could sell items that are counterfeit, unsafe, of poor quality, or manufactured under unhygienic conditions, the authorities said.
Counterfeit masks have flooded the market, even in the United States.
In February, hospitals, medical institutions and government agencies in at least five American states purchased millions of counterfeit masks thinking they were genuine.
Some of them ended up being used by healthcare workers in Washington state, which has recorded more than 390,000 Covid-19 infections to date.