As worried citizens scramble for facial protection to ward off Covid-19, an underground market of substandard surgical masks has flourished overnight in the National Capital and its neighbourhoods, an India Today TV investigation has found.

The supplies, the probe discovered, are produced in extremely unhygienic and unsafe conditions, rendering them vulnerable to infection. Health experts world over have warned that Covid-19 spreads through respiratory droplets and also possibly through surfaces and objects that have the virus on them.

Following a tip, India Today TV’s undercover reporters walked through the narrow broken lanes of Karawal Nagar in North-East Delhi leading to a cramped house.

POUCHES BECOME MASKS

Inside, they met Dilip Kumar Rai, who till recently had been making pouches for water taps. But as the demand for masks shot up, he started producing them from the same material. Rai told India Today TV’s Special Investigation Team that he outsourced production to residents in his neighbourhood.

“This material is produced in my friend’s factory. We procure and get it stitched here,” he said. “We outsource the labour work to homes around. They are given 2,000, 4,000, 5,000 pieces. They make them at their homes.”

BULK PRODUCTION, BULK SUPPLIES

Rai admitted that he would procure the material for two lakh pieces of masks in one go and distribute bundles of 5,000 to each house involved in the production. “We used to make pouches for water taps from the same material.” Probed further, Rai offered supplies in bulk at Rs 8 per piece. He also claimed that he sells the same masks to a Delhi government hospital.

“I will not sell it less than Rs 8 per piece if it’s in bulk. I usually charge Rs 10 per piece for an order of 20,000-30,000. I supplied 30,000 pieces to GTB (hospital) for Rs 10/piece,” Rai said. But he is not the only one in this business.

NO GLOVES, NO STERILISATION

In neighbouring Noida, India Today TV’s investigative team found a dilapidated unit housing a factory of fake surgical masks. No gloves for tailors. No sterilisation or hygiene in the unit located at Noida’s Sector 6. HS Bisht of the Diwan Industries now showed the samples. “Take one lakh pieces right away. They are ready,” he offered as he sought all payment in cash.

“As of now, we are taking orders in advance. The factory is running 24 hours a day.” He confessed the unit followed no sterilization protocols. “There’s not need to sterilize them,” Bisht said.

Take one lakh pieces right away. They are ready.As of now,we are taking orders in advance.We will take order in cash.The factory is running 24 hours a day.There’s no need to sterilise them.

– HS BISHT, NOIDA

NO SHUTDOWN, NO SOCIAL DISTANCING

At Ghaziabad’s Udyog Kunj Industrial Area, workers were seen huddling together while making surgical masks. Their boss, Rahul Agarwal, admitted that he is clueless about Covid-19 precautions.

“We used to make carry bags earlier,” he admitted, saying he switched to producing masks because of coronavirus-induced demand. “You’ll get them in a packing of 100 pieces each. It’s a box of 100 pieces. At medical stores, they can be retailed piecewise,” he told India Today TV’s reporters.

We used to make carry bags earlier.I switched to masks because of Coronavirus-induced demand. You will get them in a packing of 100 pieces each.It’s a box of 100 pieces. They can be retailed piece wise.

– RAHUL AGARWAL, GHAZIABAD

REACTION

Dr Sanjeev Bagai, Chairman of Nephron Clinic, emphasised that face masks are needed mainly by healthcare professionals, such as doctors and medical staff in intensive care and those in close contact with sick patients. “A routine person walking on the road does not need to wear a mask,” he said.

Fear and panic-buying of face masks, Dr Bagai pointed out, is leading to shortages. He also warned that defective and substandard facial protection could itself become a source of infection. “A wrong mask often can cause an infection rather than prevent an infection.”

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