“You are on the blacklist as a customer. We will not sell you a mask”

Author: Elsa Dautaj

The reason for this rejection from one of the at least 35 “companies” that offer masks through Facebook and Instagram were two questions. I got the answer for just one.

“From next week, masks will be mandatory to leave the house” – this was the announcement in this Facebook post

The answer to where they got this news came immediately: “from the people themselves.”

Two hours later this announcement (which appeared as a “sponsored” post for a period of more than 10 days) was removed from the page, but the question that put me on the blacklist remained unanswered, in fact it was followed by another question: “Are you investigating?”

Can you tell me who the manufacturer / importer is, and any other additional information for the confirmation statement?

This was the moment I turned into an undesirable customer.

For 7 weeks, consumers have been bombarded with social media offers of masks and warnings that they must be worn.

From a non-exhaustive check on the most used social networks in Albania, Facebook and Instagram, we have counted 35 “companies” that offer masks.

Active vendors on the online market

https://www.instagram.com/ veizitekstil/

Where are they produced and above all, who guarantees the online purchase of masks?

Based on the law on the right to information of the public, we addressed official documents to the State Inspectorate of Market Oversight with a single question: Have they exercised controls these weeks for masks found on the market?
This institution, in the field of its competencies has the supervision and control of non-food products that are placed in the Albanian market and become available to consumers, in accordance with law 10489/2011 “On trade and market oversight of non-food products”, which includes personal protective equipment, masks widely used during these days.

In its response, this inspectorate clarifies that the only protective equipment (masks) which are included in its competencies are those PPE (Personal Protection Masks), strictly regulated in this period of global pandemic by the European Directive 2016/425, Decision of the Council of Ministers 1053/2015 “On personal protection equipment” and the Law on Trade and Oversight, while masks of a medical nature, meticulously regulated by other EU directives, are the competence of the State Health Inspectorate.
The institution itself admits that currently the production and supply chain of personal protective equipment is under heavy pressure, and therefore, based on the recommendations of the relevant authorities of the European Union, has allowed the production, even through artisanal means, and trading of these devices, suspending quality controls during the production phase by domestic operators, but continuing strict controls on the quality of imported products, with a particular focus on products intended for use by medical staff.
In this situation, the responsibility for the quality of the products used by the consumer remains on the producers, who are encouraged, but not forced, to follow the minimum quality standards published on the official website of ISHMT and the consumer himself, who takes the risk in their use, given that by this institution itself, these handicraft products are classified as a “minimum safety barrier” against the spread of COVID-19.

Albania is part of Europol for online trade controls and so far we have not seen any announcements of controls or measures by state instances for all sites that trade online.
Masks are sold both in pharmacies and in markets. Except in a few cases at the pharmacy, the masks provide no information on who produces them and who certifies them.
“The pharmacy lacks information about the categories of masks, the difference between masks that are under the category of medical equipment and those that are Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), the declaration of conformity, the CE marking” – says AnilaKasmi Jani, trade legislation and product market oversightexpert.
In the pharmacy, trading seems safer than on the Internet, at least what you answer is in front of you, but again the questions about the safety of the product remain.

“In many cases in EU countries, there have been cases of forged certificates by mask manufacturers, which do not meet the essential safety requirements, and as a result have been returned and not placed on the European market.” – says Anila Jani
The fact is that in the capital you see more and more people wearing masks.
“I use the mask to protect myself and others around me,” said one citizen. “I feel more secure.”

The price of masks varies from 100 to 800 ALL
Masks are offered in single and multiple use. A mask bought at a pharmacy in Tirana for 300 ALL is accompanied by some user guides.
Function: antibacterial, antifungal, antismog
Application: outdoors and indoors
Composition: 100% cotton fabric from both sides with an antibacterial filter on the inside.
Maintenance: wash at 90 degrees in the washing machine
Hygiene: spray with ethyl alcohol or steam iron before applying to face

Epidemiologist Alimehmeti says the masks are disposable.
“There are no masks that are used several times. If they are, their quality is the same as what you can produce yourself at home. “Since these are not medical masks, as medical masks are always single use only, then these masks are not certified by anyone as they are not subject to the regulations of medical equipment.”

The truth is that most of the masks offered on the market today and online are claimed to be not for single use.

Is there a risk of using these masks?

“The risks are unknown, as they are unstudied masks. Whatever efficiency they report, they are speculative values oriented only towards sales. No official institution guarantees these masks. ” – says Alimehmeti

Some citizens have preferred to solve the problem themselves by preparing it at home, some refer to experience, some to lessons they receive online. For masks the “Achilles heel” remains filtration.

“The filtration test is very simple. After applying the mask, hold a lighted lighter in front of your face and blow hard. If the lighter flame does not move, the mask is effective “- says Alimehmeti

The important point is that self-made masks can be reused after washing in the washing machine at least 60 degrees and at least for 40 minutes.

“The advice is to have 4-5 masks when you go out, and change them every time they get dirty, get wet or think they are dirty. In these cases, wash your hands before removing the mask, be careful not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth, remove the mask and place it in a plastic bag, wash your hands again and put on the other mask. ” – advises epidemiologist Alimehmeti.

On television, the COVID-19 Awareness Campaign directs the public:

“Use the mask only if you are sick, or suspect that those around you are sick.”

Even today, the World Health Organization, on its website, does not advise mass use leaving this to the competence of local authorities.

Both specialists and the authorities have not been clear on whether or not masks should be used en masse. The fact is that at the moment masks are the most sought after commodity.

Can masks be produced in Albania?

If you trust communication with online “companies” we already have factories that produce in Tirana, Elbasan, Durres… But experts call for caution.

“Manufacturers must be supported by professional staff with the technical and scientific knowledge to design masks that meet the essential safety requirements.” says Anila Jani, adding that there is an influx of applications for the certification of masks from European organizations that are limited in number.

We contacted a total of 28 online sites on Facebook and Instagram, which sell online masks, with an interest in buying masks, from which we also addressed the question of whether the masks were certified. Of these vendors, 6 gave no response, 10 of them stated that the masks they traded were certified and 12 of them had no certification.

One of the responses received from companies that claimed that there is no official certification on the masks sold is:

“Hello, thank you for your interest and for the question you are addressing. The masks are handcrafted locally by our employees. They are not certified because we do not know of an authority in Albania that certifies them, as they are not medical. Masks are cotton material (not cloth) with several layers as well as a layer which does not allow the penetration of sprays, we have built them with many layers for this reason.

In our knowledge, the Minister of Health has also stated that they will allow processed masks made of cloth and not the medical ones that should be available for the medical staff. ”

Just a few days after we contacted various online retailers and asked them if the masks were certified or not, we noticed that some of these sites had changed their profile and stopped the sale of masks online.

Beyond the fear of purchasing products that do not meet the standards required to protect the health of their users, another worrying element is the fact that almost none of the online retailers of these products have published commercial information to identify them. It is almost impossible to prove the commercial status of these companies, their expertise in the production and marketing of these specific products. The question of what provides the citizen with the quality of the purchased product remains unanswered.

On the street you see more and more people wearing masks. We are also ready to buy a mask everywhere, in pharmacies, in the market, on Instagram and on Facebook, only on one condition: we want answers to the question:

  • Can you tell me who the manufacturer / importer is?

In the absence of information from sellers, this answer can be given by the State Inspectorate of Market Oversight, Customs, the National Agency for Drugs and the State Health Inspectorate!

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