AT LEAST 1,100 frontline health workers have been forced into self-isolation after Spain’s Ministry of Health distributed ‘faulty’ masks across the nation.

An estimated 350,000 units of the masks fell foul of medical testing – at least 28 staff using them tested positive to COVID-19 at the Hospital de Ourense, in Galicia.

The masks have now been recalled from autonomous regions including Andalucia, Murcia, Madrid, the Comunitat Valenciana, Castilla-La Mancha, Cataluña, Aragon, Galicia and Navarra.

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The Garry Galaxy Biotechnology masks were found to allow in penetrative material at levels up to five times higher than EU regulations.

Murcia has taken the most drastic measures by forcing more than 1,100 of its medical workers to self-isolate. Regional authorities have tested half of them already, all testing negative to COVID-19.

Authorities in Andalucia, Aragon and the Comunitat Valenciana have committed to test all their hospital workers who used the masks. One worker tested in the Comunitat is suspected to be infected, and is awaiting a second test.

It comes as 31,000 health workers have tested positive to coronavirus in Spain – 15% of total infections – and 34 have died.

Hospitals have been crying out for PPE since the end of March, when the New York Times ran a front-page video report on ‘kamikaze’ Spanish nurses battling coronavirus with gowns home-made from bin bags.

But alarm bells were raised after up to 400,000 masks were sent to regional hospitals on April 7.

Analysis from Spain’s Institute of Work Safety and Hygiene – under the Ministry of Labour – revealed some of the Garry Galaxy-brand masks had filtration levels five times higher than EU regulations.

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Garry Galaxy Biotechnology does make FFP2 masks that meet EU requirements. They come in blue packets – not the green packets that have been recalled.

An urgent email from Patricia Lacruz, who directs the pharmaceutical department in the Ministry of Health, urged all autonomous regions to recall the falty masks on April 15.

Official recall was due by April 18, last Friday.

It is Spain’s second major blunder, after 640,000 rapid coronavirus tests were also found to be faulty last month.

Both the rapid tests and masks were bought from companies based in China. Garry Galaxy Biotechnology, however, features on an approved list of Chinese manufacturers created by Spain’s Ministry of Health following the rapid coronavirus test disaster.

Garry Galaxy does sell the required FFP2 protective masks, but also sells ‘ordinary’ ones that are not effective against viruses.

The company’s website offers these ordinary masks in a green packet – and it is these the government has recalled after acknowledging their unsuitability.

It is not clear what exactly the Ministry of Health intended to purchase.

Fact-checking website Maldita.es pressed Maria Jesus Montero, Spain’s Minister of Finance, on when the contract with Garry Galaxy would be made public.

The Minister said her government would abide by the rules, but could not name a date when the press can scrutinise the government’s decision.

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