Syndicates selling used mask, gloves
Taking advantage of growing demand for hand gloves and masks, several syndicates are reselling discarded products exposing people to the risk of contracting the novel coronavirus in the country.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the coronavirus can survive up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel, less than 4 hours on copper and less than 24 hours on cardboard.
Single-use masks are not meant to be reused, but these syndicates are so desperate to make a quick buck that they are collecting surgical masks, gloves from different city hospitals and dumping stations to resell those to people.
"It's cent per cent risky. They [unscrupulous businessmen] are actually increasing the risk of infection," said Dr Abu Hussain Md Moinul Ahsan, civil surgeon of Dhaka. "It's better to go without protection than wearing these reused materials as these are more destructive for health."
The syndicate has a nexus with medical staff and waste collector that supply disposed hand gloves and masks from hospitals. On the other hand, scrap collectors get discarded products littered on roads and dustbins.
On March 24, a team of Rab-1 conducted a joint drive with Bhatara Police Station in Balur Math area of Bhatara and recovered 43 sacks of used masks, hand gloves and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).
They arrested the alleged ringleader of the syndicate, Monir Hossain from the spot.
Sarwoer Alam, executive magistrate of Rab HQ, led the drive. He said the syndicate would collect used masks, gloves and PPE from different residential areas and hospitals of the capital with support from hospital staff and scrap collectors, then re-sell those in Keraniganj, Kamrangirchar and Mitford market after washing.
"In interrogation, Monir also told the investigators that some staff members of medical waste collector organisation, PRISM Bangladesh Foundation, also helped them collect these items," he alleged.
Monir was sentenced to two years of imprisonment.
PRISM Bangladesh collects medical wastes from hospitals of Dhaka city and dumps these at the Sanitary Landfill in Matuail of Demra.
"We have got some more names from the arrestees and now we are conducting drives to arrest them. After that we will able to learn the details about their profit and sales," added the executive magistrate.
Earlier on April 14, a Rab-2 mobile court sealed two warehouses of an organisation and fined them Tk 10 lakh on charge of stocking and selling used hand gloves and masks in Dhaka's Panthapath.
"We found different renowned companies' box at their warehouse. After collecting used masks and hand gloves, they would wash and repackage those," said Palash Bosu, executive Magistrate of Rab-3, who led the drive.
Law enforcement agencies primarily came to know about these operations through scrap collectors.
"We are now trying to get details of the process to know how many people are actually involved behind the nexus," said the official, requesting anonymity.
According to Rab, eighteen companies have been sealed and nine people imprisoned for illegally importing low quality testing kits and selling used masks and hand gloves in the capital's Uttara, Gulshan, Mohammadpur and Babubazar area and a fine of Tk 62 lakh has also been imposed.
Civil Surgeon Moinul Ahsan suggested city corporations to beef up its monitoring system to prevent collection of used masks and gloves.
Contacted, Khondkar Anisur Rahman, secretary general of the executive committee, PRISM Bangladesh, brushed aside the allegation against his organisation.
"We are now collecting medical waste with more caution. It is kept inside sealed bags so there is no scope to collect masks, gloves and PPE," he told this newspaper.
"If anyone can catch any of our staff red-handed, we'll take action," he added.
On March 18, police arrested one person in Tongi, Gazipur for his alleged involvement in selling masks and gloves that were discarded after use in hospitals. They used to sell the products after washing them with shampoo.