Fake COVID-19 meds prominent in latest Operation Pangea

This year’s Operation Pangea has unsurprisingly seen a dramatic uptick in falsified medicinal and healthcare products claiming to diagnose, treat or prevent coronavirus infections.

Counterfeit facemasks, substandard hand sanitisers and unauthorised antiviral drugs claiming to treat COVID-19 were among $14m-worth of illicit products seized in Pangea XIII, which involved enforcement agencies from 90 countries and led to 121 arrests.

The crackdown – which took place from March 3 to 10 – involved the inspection of more than 326,000 packages, of which more than 48,000 were seized by customs and regulatory authorities.

All told 4.4m doses of illicit pharmaceuticals were intercepted, with erectile dysfunction pills, anticancer medication, hypnotic and sedative agents, anabolic steroids, painkillers, nervous system drugs, dermatological therapies and vitamins featuring prominently.

Seizures of counterfeit antiviral drugs were up 18 per cent on the prior year, and there was a 100 per cent rise in unauthorised chloroquine/hydroxychloroquine – an antimalarial drug which has seen demand soar after President Trump suggested in a press conference that it might be effective in treating coronavirus infection.

Globally, 2,000 online advertisements related to COVID-19 were found and more than 34,000 fake or substandard masks, unlicensed products called ‘corona spray’, ‘coronavirus packages’ or ‘coronavirus medicine’, and dodgy diagnostics kits and surgical instruments were intercepted.

“Once again, Operation Pangea shows that criminals will stop at nothing to make a profit,” said Jürgen Stock, secretary general of Interpol, which coordinated the initiative.

“The illicit trade in such counterfeit medical items during a public health crisis shows their total disregard for people’s wellbeing, or their lives,” he added.

Data collected by participating countries points to a considerable decrease in international shipments of small parcels – by about 40 per cent – which Interpol says is probably due to the coronavirus outbreak. That reverses a strong trend for increased shipping in small parcels in recent years.

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