Dangerous Chinese masks flood Aussie stores
Australians may be risking their health by relying on dodgy face masks purporting to protect them from coronavirus.
More than 200 face masks - registered by the nation's medicines watchdog - have been dramatically withdrawn from sale to hospitals, raising fears about their effectiveness.
But in a bizarre twist, the deregistered masks can still be sold in hardware stores and other shops, so long as they are not labelled for surgical use or marketed as stopping the transmission of the disease.
It comes as residents of Victoria are being urged to wear face masks in crowded public places to protect themselves from coronavirus.
Millions of face masks, many produced in China, were bought into the country under special exemption granted on March 22 that allowed them to avoid checks.
At the time the government was racing to obtain enough personal protective equipment to protect nurses and doctors on the frontline during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, late last month after a series of complaints from health workers, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) announced it would conduct a review into the products to ensure they met safety standards.
It wrote to companies supplying the masks warning them they could face fines if they did not comply.
Hundreds of companies voluntarily withdrew their products from the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods (ARTG) after receiving the notification, raising doubts about the quality of the products.
You can find the list of face masks withdrawn from the register here.
On its website the TGA said: "Due to a rapid increase in demand for the manufacturing, importation and sale of face masks, there has been an increase in medical device inclusions in the ARTG, with many manufactured and imported from overseas."
Some KN95 masks tested by medical regulators in the US did not provide consistent and adequate respiratory protection, the TGA said.
Frontline health workers who relied on the masks may not have been protected from the virus and the Australian taxpayer may have wasted millions of dollars on masks for the national medical stockpile that are not fit for purpose.
The TGA told News Corp it was seeking information about where the deregistered masks were supplied and would ensure hospitals and health facilities were told about the cancellations.
The deregistered masks can still be sold in hardware stores and other shops where they do not have to meet the standards set by the TGA because they are not labelled for surgical use or claim to reduce or prevent the transmission of disease between people, the TGA said.
Cloth masks recommended by the Victorian Government were not regulated by the TGA, the watchdog said.
Occupational health and safety expert from the University of Queensland Professor Keith Adam said it was "like the wild west" in March and April with shady operators trying to make a quick buck out of supplying masks in times of high demand.
"The quality had to be dodgy … I've seen lots of dodgy masks walking down the street," he said.
To provide proper protection a surgical mask needed to be at least three layers thick and be made of material that acted as a filter, he said.
A surgical mask would stop the wearer infecting others but would not stop others infecting the wearer.
To protect yourself from infection you need a P2 or N95 mask which filters out 95 per cent of fine aerosol particles, he said.
He recommends the 3M and Drager, Uvex, iQuip or ProChoice brands or anything complying with standard AS/NZS1716.
THE MASKS YOU SHOULD BE USING
P2 face masks recommended by University Queensland expert Professor Keith Adam
*Drager P2 mask cost $49-$119 at Sydney Tools (not currently in stock)
*3M P2 mask available at Bunnings in a 2 pack for $14.95.
*Uvex P2 sold by Sydney tools $50.95 for a pack of 15 (not currently available)
*iQuip P2 sold by Sydney Tools $129 for 10 pack, $39 for 3 is available
*ProChoice P2 mask Sydney Tools sells them for $129 for a pack of 12 currently available.
Originally published as Dangerous Chinese masks flood Aussie stores