Faults in China-supplied coronavirus equipment reported in Europe

Netherlands recalls hundreds of thousands of face masks after Spain returned testing kits

The Netherlands has joined Spain in withdrawing coronavirus equipment bought from Chinese suppliers after finding it defective, a setback in the scramble to meet dire shortages of testing and protective equipment.

In the Netherlands, the ministry of health issued a recall of hundreds of thousands of face masks that had been distributed to hospitals, after finding flaws that prevented them acting as effective barriers against the virus.

The recall concerned almost half of a shipment of 1.3 million so-called FFP2 masks imported from China, national broadcaster NOS reported. The Netherlands has no internal capacity to manufacture masks, and began experiencing shortages of protective equipment early on in the pandemic.

It came after Spain returned 58,000 coronavirus test kits made by Shenzhen Bioeasy Biotechnology after finding the tests were unreliable as they had only a 30 per cent accuracy rate. The tests were the first in a planned roll-out of 640,000 rapid testing kits to grapple with one of the world's worst outbreaks of the virus.


“The first tests on the rapid testing kits were carried out simultaneously by a hospital in Madrid and by the Carlos III Health Institute, and as soon as their low sensitivity was discovered, they were withdrawn,” said the ministry of health in a statement.

“The supplier has been contacted and replacement tests will be provided.”

The Chinese embassy to Spain said that Shenzhen Bioeasy Biotechnology was unlicensed, and clarified that donations by the Chinese government and tech company Alibaba had not included tests from the company. The previous day, Madrid had announced a deal with China to buy €432 million in testing kits and protective equipment.

“The Chinese Ministry of Commerce offered to Spain a list of approved suppliers, in which Shenzhen Bioeasy Biotechnology was not included,” wrote the Chinese embassy in Madrid.

Wider faults

The Bioeasy brand of tests may have been in use in other parts of Europe.

The mayor of Ukrainian capital Kiev Vitali Klitschko shared a photograph of a Bioeasy coronavirus test on social media on March 10th, announcing that 5,000 of them would be distributed across hospitals within a week. Bioeasy did not respond when asked by The Irish Times which countries it had supplied with test kits.

Turkey and the Philippines have also reported faulty coronavirus tests, without specifying the supplier. The website of Bioeasy's Ukraine-based distributor still featured coronavirus test kits and was open for order inquiries as of March 30th.

A second company, Beijing-based Innovita, issued a denial that its tests were faulty after reports of problems in Czech media. In a statement, the company clarified that the test concerned was for IgM and IgG antibodies produced in the body in response to coronavirus infection, which would not be present in the early stages of the disease.

“It cannot be used as a basis for diagnosis or exclusion of Covid-19, neither can it be used for general screening or self-testing,” the statement read.

Last week, US-based digital health company Scanwell Health announced it secured exclusive rights to licence and distribute Innovita’s antibody test “for at-home use”. Scanwell is awaiting emergency use authorisation for the tests from the US Food and Drug Administration.

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times