THE HAGUE (AFP) - Millions of counterfeit drugs, medical devices and masks sold as so-called remedies for the new coronavirus are "flooding" markets in response to shortages, Europe's police agency warned on Wednesday (March 25).
"The distribution of counterfeit or sub-standard goods has been a key area of criminal activity in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic," said Europol spokesman Jan Op Gen Oorth.
Millions of products have been taken off the shelves in the past weeks because they inaccurately claimed to cure or protect against the coronavirus.
"Counterfeiters are (now) taking advantage of the situation by flooding our markets with counterfeit goods in response to shortages," Mr Oorth said.
Law officials in 90 countries in early March carried out an operation supported by Europol which saw 4.4 million units of illicit medicines seized.
"Operation Pangea" saw officials confiscating almost 34,000 surgical masks and the dismantling of 37 organised crime groups. Some 121 suspects were arrested.
The operation also resulted in the closure of 2,500 links to products related to Covid-19 on websites, social networks, online markets and advertisements.
Counterfeit medicines included antiviral drugs, antibiotics, paracetamol, ibuprofen and antimalarials, such as chloroquine and hydroxy chloroquine, which some vendors wanted to pass off as treatments for Covid-19.
Bogus vaccines against the new coronavirus are also being sold, as well as and sanitisers and diagnostic tests for the disease, Europol said.