German authorities accuse U.S. of 'piracy' by seizing face masks
Updated 02:03, 05-Apr-2020
Ira Spitzer in Berlin

German officials in Berlin have accused the United States of seizing a shipment of 200,000 protective masks intended to go to the German capital, calling it an "act of modern piracy."

The market for protective equipment has become increasingly contentious as the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread globally.

Berlin officials are outraged that they didn't receive the FFP2 protective masks – also known as N95 respirators – they say they ordered from the American company 3M for the city's police force. They say the United States seized the masks, which were made in China, at Bangkok airport to use themselves.

Berlin mayor Michael Mueller called the alleged incident "inhumane and unacceptable" and Berlin's state interior minister Andreas Geisel said the global crisis didn't excuse using what he called "Wild West methods."

A few days ago, U.S. president Donald Trump invoked the country's Defense Production Act, essentially forcing 3M to sell to the U.S. as many of the N95 respirators as it needs. The Berlin officials believe the missing shipment is tied to this development.

There's still some mystery as to what actually happened here. 3M says it has no record of Berlin's order and an anonymous U.S. official called the reports completely false.

As the coronavirus epidemic worsens in the U.S. – it now has more cases than anywhere else in the world – this isn't the first time that the country's government or private firms have been criticized for attempts to obtain protective gear by any means necessary, including paying much higher prices. France and Canada have both recently complained about American behavior.

3M has found itself in the middle of massive global demand to stock up on the N95 masks, which can protect against transmission of the deadly virus.

On Friday, Trump said he was "not happy" with the American company, which produces the masks both in the U.S. and abroad. The company said the U.S. government had asked it to stop exporting the masks to Canada and Latin America, which it said would trigger a humanitarian crisis.

Germany and France have themselves limited exports of protective equipment, drawing criticism from other European states. The coronavirus is continuing to spread in Germany, which now has the world's fourth-highest number of confirmed cases behind the U.S., Spain and Italy. 

Like those countries and France, Germany has overtaken China's case total this week. Germany and France have themselves limited exports of protective equipment, drawing criticism from other European states.

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