Police have arrested 84 suspects and seized thousands of fake COVID-19 vaccines in raids in China and South Africa.
It comes weeks after the head of Interpol warned that criminal networks would try to cash in on the global vaccination rollout.
South African police seized 400 ampoules, providing 2,400 doses, of a fake vaccine in Germiston, Gauteng, along with a big supply of fake 3M brand masks. They arrested a Zambian national and three Chinese suspects.
Brigadier Vish Naidoo, of the South African Police, said: “Since COVID-19 reached the shores of South Africa, the government has adopted an integrated multi-disciplinary law enforcement approach.
“This is proving to be very effective as we have seen in the arrests for foreign nationals attempting to peddle fake vaccines to unsuspecting people within South Africa.”
That raid led to a second on a manufacturing premises in China, where police seized 3,000 fake vaccines and arrested 80 suspects.
The Chinese authorities believe they have dismantled an organised crime group making the fake drugs and distributing them abroad.
A Ministry of Public Security spokesman said: “The Chinese government attaches great importance to vaccine security.
“Chinese police are conducting a targeted campaign to prevent and crack down on crimes related to vaccines, proactively investigating and combating crimes related to vaccines in accordance with law.”
Interpol, the international police organisation, said it was aware of fake vaccine scams aimed at nursing homes and warned that no approved vaccines were currently available for sale online.
Secretary General Jurgen Stock said: “Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine-related crime.
“Following our warning that criminals would target the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, both on and offline, Interpol continues to provide its full support to national authorities working to protect the health and safety of their citizens.”
In the US, Homeland Security agents recently seized 10 million fake 3M brand masks after counterfeits were sold to hospitals, other medical centres and government agencies in five states.
Since the pandemic began, US agents have seized $33 million worth of fake COVID-19 products and arrested 200 suspects.
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