Revealed: Online trade in coronavirus “cure”, test kits and ventilators | News from the world

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Facebook’s global ban on ads for coronavirus test kits, hand sanitizers, face masks and disinfectant wipes is easily flouted, according to the Guardian, while eBay lists critical care respirators for sale at prices above £ 12,000.

An investigation into online markets that flourished during the pandemic also identified a general practitioner in West Yorkshire who was selling antibody tests to the public in apparent violation of UK law.

An anonymous Facebook page offering Covid-19 antibody test kits for £ 49.99 each, saying it was raising money to donate equipment to the NHS, linked to a website apparently run by Youssef Beaini, a family doctor in Bradford.

Contacted by The Guardian, Beaini, who appeared on Channel 5 series GPs: Behind closed doors, said he was unaware that UK law prohibited the sale of kits to the public and would stop selling the kit equipment.

Beaini deleted a Facebook page called Coronavirus Antibody Tests which said that for four kits sold to the public, one would be given to an NHS worker.

“I don’t want to do anything illegal,” said Beaini. “No one is testing us. We feel very anxious and nervous about it. We look with horror at what happened in Italy. We want to do something but I want to stay within the rules. “

The GP’s involvement in the sale of Covid-19 test kits was revealed by the Guardian’s digital investigation team, a group of software engineers who tracked the online trade in Covid-19-related products. .

The trail started with Facebook. We searched the Facebook Ad Library for pages containing prohibited ads for Covid-19 antibody tests, ventilators, face masks, and hand sanitizer. A Facebook page selling Covid-19 antibody tests has promised to donate a free test to the NHS for four sold to the general public, and linked to a site, wellclinic.co.uk, where the kits could be purchased.

To find out who was behind the site, the Guardian’s digital investigation team – a group of software engineers – analyzed a product data sheet for testing, available for download. The file was hosted with Microsoft OneDrive and the metadata included the name of the user who created it, Youssef Beaini. In another digital trace, a YouTube video showing how to use the test kit on wellclinic.co.uk turned out to have been downloaded by a channel called The Bonds Clinic. On Twitter, Youssef Beaini, a doctor from West Yorkshire who appeared on the GPs of the medical series Channel 5: Behind closed doors, describes himself as “Dr at the Bonds clinic”.

A review of DNS records and previous incarnations of wellclinic.co.uk in the Internet archives revealed that in 2018 he was advertising for the Bonds Clinic, which treats addiction and is registered at the same address in Bradford at from which Beaini operates as a general practitioner.

Digital investigation team: Joseph Smith, Michael Barton, Reetta Vaahtoranta.

The sale of coronavirus screening kits to persons who are not health care professionals is prohibited because the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has not approved the use of home.

The agency said it is investigating a large number of “non-compliance” allegations regarding the sale of medical devices for use during the epidemic.

Government labs have evaluated antibody test kits in the past week, but don’t have one that works yet. Health Secretary Matt Hancock repeated warnings today not to use them at home, saying they could give “false insurance”.

“At the moment we don’t have a reliable test,” he told the BBC. “Telling someone that we think you are immune to this test result and that it is not can be really dangerous. “

Fans on eBay

The Guardian has also identified that Ebay, the auction website, appears to have facilitated the sale of two high-value ventilators designed for use in intensive care units to vendors who appear to have no previous records of sales. medical equipment. One, a Chinese machine, sold for £ 12,800 on March 26.

The seller, who appears to specialize in used television parts and cell phones, had previously received negative reviews on eBay, including a warning, “Don’t buy like this.”

The Guardian found a retailer in China selling the same type of fan for $ 2,100 (£ 1,609), a fraction of the eBay price.




Screenshot of eBay listing

Screenshot of eBay listing

An eBay spokesperson confirmed that the item was purchased and said that if it did not arrive, the buyer would be entitled to a refund. A second sheet offering an identical machine from the same seller was permanently deleted from the site because it violated its policy on medical devices and restrictions have now been placed on the seller’s account.

Another Chinese-made fan was sold on eBay for £ 8,790 on March 20. Records suggest that the seller previously sold cell phone cases before turning to antibacterial wipes. eBay said the seller had provided documents to justify the sale, and later canceled the transaction due to “low inventory.” He said the buyer had received a full refund.

“We are watching ads in this category very closely,” said an eBay spokesperson. “If an advertisement turns out to be against our policies, we will take necessary action, which may include suspension of the account. “

The pandemic has sparked activity on Facebook. The platform committed on March 19 to introduce a global ban on the advertising and sales of coronavirus-related products, including test kits, masks, hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes.

While Facebook quickly removed paid advertising on the platform, it appears to have allowed certain pages that produce prohibited ads to remain online, allowing sellers to continue promoting their products. One recent morning research found 17 Facebook pages peddling Covid-19 test kits and 18 pages selling other banned products.

Facebook pages promote products, link to external websites where they can be purchased, or provide suppliers with phone numbers and other contact information. A popular Facebook page, called Covid-19 Tests, which had 5,000 likes, still offered masks and tests for sale this week.

Visitors were offered a dialog to contact the seller. The seller responded to a message that he had run out of stock, but added, “There will be more stock at the end of the week, I will send you a link. How many kits did you want? “

After being alerted by the Guardian, Facebook began to delete these pages as well as the paid advertisements. “Facebook is focused on preventing the exploitation of this crisis for financial gain,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “We have removed millions of Marketplace ads, publications, pages and ads for the sale of masks, hand sanitizers, surface disinfectant wipes and Covid-19 test kits, including understood all those shared with us by the Guardian. ”

The MHRA is particularly concerned about the sales of rapid test kits, which take 10 minutes and do not require laboratory analysis. They look like pregnancy test sticks and use a drop of blood from a finger prick to measure the presence of antibodies. Some antibodies clearly indicate if a person has already contracted Covid-19.

Some test kits claim to have a CE (European Conformity) mark which indicates that the product has been approved by regulators. However, guidelines published by Public Health England state, “There are no CE marked tests for home use and it is illegal to supply such products.”

It appears that these were the tests that were sold by Beaini, the Bradford GP, via a website that had no contact name, phone number, email address or postal address.




Youssef Beaini

Youssef Beaini said, “We will delete and remove all pages so that no illegal activity can occur.” Photography: Bonds Clinic

The Facebook page promoting Beaini kits was also anonymous. He said it was led by “employees of state-run organizations who are on the front line of exposure to coronaviruses from their work”.

He said: “We have been offered to buy a supply of fingerprint coronavirus test kits and we have distributed 16 free of charge to NHS staff. However, we have to cover the costs and some of them will now be available for purchase by the general public. “

The Facebook page promised that for four tests sold for £ 49.99, one would be given to NHS staff. The “wellclinic” website to which the Facebook page refers did not state the name of the manufacturer of the test kits, which means that its claims about their certification and reliability were beyond verification.




Facebook ad for antibody testing

Screenshot of a Facebook advertisement for antibody tests

Beaini declined to say whether colleagues from the NHS were involved in his plan to sell the kits or why he chose to sell the equipment via an anonymous Facebook page and website.

He said he bought some of the kits from China for £ 20 each and has so far donated them to frontline workers.

“Everything must stop immediately,” he said. “We will delete and remove all pages so that no illegal activity can occur.”

He then said by email that only two kits had been sold to non-health professionals and that these buyers had now been reimbursed and asked to “ignore the results”. He described selling the kits to the public as “an oversight.”

Chloroquine

The Guardian’s digital investigation team has also discovered an apparent increase in sales on the dark web of chloroquine after Donald Trump touted the use of the antimalarial drug for the treatment of Covid-19 despite concerns that its benefits potentials have not yet been proven.

Established sellers of illegal recreational and prescription drugs in anonymous markets like Empire and Kingdom have turned to advertising chloroquine as a remedy for Covid-19.

PowerHouse, a dark web merchant selling recreational drugs, including MDMA and speed, posted five chloroquine ads on Empire last week. Another Empire vendor claimed the drug “kills the coronavirus”.

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