Amid accusations of stealing thousands of face masks that China donated to coronavirus-battered Italy, the Czech Republic sent 110,000 of the much-needed protective items to Rome as compensation for the snafu, according to a report.
“We’ve just sent 110,000 face masks to Italy by bus heading to Rome… along with 43 Italian tourists who could not get back home,” Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek told Agence France-Presse.
“The Czech Republic certainly didn’t steal anything,” he said, adding that Prague had sent 10,000 more replacement masks of the “same type.”
On Saturday, the Italian daily la Repubblica reported that Czech authorities seized Chinese masks intended for Italian hospitals under the guise of a sting against traffickers.
In the article, headlined “How the Czech Republic sequestered thousands of masks sent from China to Italy,” the news outlet cited as a source “courageous Czech researcher” Lukas Lev Cervinka, an adviser to deputy Jan Lipavsky of the anti-establishment Czech Pirate Party.
Czech police last week said they carried out an anti-trafficking operation in which they seized 680,000 masks and ventilators from a warehouse of a private company in Lovosice, north of Prague.
Interior Minister Jan Hamacek later acknowledged on Twitter that “unfortunately, after further investigation, it turned out that a smaller part of this seizure was a Chinese donation to Italy.”
Czech media reported that the donation from China represented just over 100,000 masks. Local authorities had announced that 380,000 of the seized masks would be distributed to Czech hospitals.
Petricek said that someone had ripped a sign off the Czech consulate in Milan.
“I can understand the reaction following the information in the media,” the minister said.
Petricek said investigators were looking into how the masks ended up in Lovosice.
“To be quite frank, Lovosice is not quite en route from China to Italy,” he told AFP.
The EU country of 10.7 million people has 1,165 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and one death. Prague has made wearing masks mandatory for anyone venturing outside for necessities.
In Italy, almost 5,500 people have died of the illness and nearly 60,000 have been infected, according to the latest tallies.
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