PRAGUE (Reuters) - The Czech authorities seized nearly 700,000 face masks that are needed against the coronavirus outbreak from a company seeking a higher price for the shipment, Interior Minister Jan Hamacek said on Tuesday.
The Czech Republic, which has reported 434 cases of the new virus as of Tuesday evening, is facing an acute shortage of masks and respirators, prompting ordinary citizens to organize production at their homes.
“Police raid against profiteers,” Hamacek said on his Twitter account. “The company was supposed to deliver the masks to healthcare workers, but it wanted to raise the price at the last moment.”
Hamacek apologised earlier on Tuesday, alongside Prime Minister Andrej Babis, for not securing enough protective gear especially for the personnel in hospitals who treat people who may be infected by the virus.
Meanwhile, a group called “Czechia sews masks” has attracted 25,000 members on Facebook who offer to make the protective gear and deliver it to those who need it across the country.
The outbreak is having an impact on the Czech economy. The local plant of Volkswagen will halt car production this week, while the central bank’s governor predicts a drop of the country’s gross domestic product.
Reporting by Robert Muller; Editing by Leslie Adler