Germany has accused the United States of diverting a Germany-bound consignment of the much sought N95 masks, calling it a "modern act of piracy".
With the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, N95 masks, commonly known as respirators, are in high demand in the international market, with countries outbidding each other in an attempt to procure the masks. N95 masks provide better protection as compared to common surgical masks.
German government's accusation
Berlin authorities had ordered 200,000 N95 masks which were diverted to the US while being transferred between flights in Thailand, the Guardian reported.
"We consider that as an act of modern piracy," Berlin's Interior Minister Andreas Geisel said in a statement. "Even in times of global crisis there should be no wild west methods."
"This is no way to treat trans-Atlantic partners," Geisel said.
According to German reports, the masks were made by a Chinese firm for the US company 3M.
3M issues statement
"3M has no evidence to suggest 3M products have been seized. 3M has no record of any order of respirators from China for the Berlin police. We cannot speculate where this report originated," the company said in a statement on Friday.
3M issues another statement
In a separate statement issued on Friday, the company said the Donald Trump administration has asked it to increase shipments of respirators to the US from the company's overseas plants. As a result, its Chinese plant will ship 10 million N95 masks.
But the statement raised another important issue. The Trump administration has told the company to stop exporting masks from US production sites to Canada and Latin America. The company has warned of "significant humanitarian implications", that could result from the lack of masks to healthcare workers.
3M has also warned the US administration of a possible retaliation from other countries. "If that were to occur, the net number of respirators being made available to the US would actually decrease," the statement read. "That is the opposite of what we and the administration, on behalf of the American people, both seek."
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already termed the US decision a "mistake", adding that the US imports medical supplies from Canada as well.