Portugal's Participation in WCO's Operation "STOP"

Ana Cristina Barbosa's picture
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In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, decreed on 11th March 2020 by the WHO, the World Customs Organisation (WCO) organised a worldwide emergency operation (Operation “STOP”) between 11th May 2020 and 12th July2020, in which 99 of the 183 WCO member countries participated, as well as its Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILO) network, with the aim of concentrating and coordinating the efforts of the customs authorities of the different countries in the controls related to the public health problem caused by the pandemic.

Customs are in a privileged position to control cross-border movements of goods, on import, export, transit or transshipment and in areas under customs control and, during the pandemic, particularly in the context of this operation, have reinforced checks to ensure compliance with safety and quality criteria for medical devices, personal protective equipment and imported medicines.

Portugal has participated in the "STOP" operation and Customs carried out controls on sea, air, road and postal routes, with the support of other national agencies with responsibilities for the certification of these products.

The main objective of the operation was to ensure that all customs authorities guided their controls during the pandemic to ensure compliance with safety and quality criteria for Medical Devices, Personal Protective Equipment and medicines imported by each country, products which were in high demand in international trade in the initial phase of the pandemic.

Another aspect of the operation was the fight against Organised Crime Groups, which, as proved, quickly reorganised their activities to take advantage of the pandemic state, to engage in the marketing of fake products, products of inferior quality that do not meet the safety or quality criteria established by each country or even products allegedly intended for the fight against the new virus, without any scientific proof of their effectiveness.

As a result of the coordinated efforts of the 99 countries participating in the operation, significant results have been achieved, such as 1,683 interceptions, comprising more than 300 million doses of drugs, 47 million units of Medical Devices (masks, gloves, VIDEO-19 test kits, thermometers and overalls) and approximately 2.8 million litres of hand disinfectant gel.

Consequently, Operation "STOP" has contributed to safeguarding human lives, mitigating the effects of the pandemic by protecting citizens from the use of potentially ineffective or even life-threatening medical devices and medicines (e.g. counterfeit medicines, with expired dates, no advertised active ingredients or containing active ingredients other than those advertised, medical devices not complying with legal requirements, or sanitary gel not having effective sanitary properties) and contributed to making borders safer.

Portugal has integrated this “STOP” operation, with the Tax and Customs Authority, namely through the Customs who carried out controls on sea, air, roads and postal routes, with the support of Infarmed (as regards Medical Devices and Medicines) and ASAE (as regards Personal Protective Equipment), by fulfilling its mission and tasks even during the pandemic, ensuring the application of the rules governing goods brought into the territory of the European Union, combating fraud and illegal trafficking, cooperating with European and international bodies to ensure the health and safety of citizens.

Although during the period of the operation there were exceptional temporary measures in place in terms of proof of conformity certification of Medical Devices and PPE, the controls carried out by AT resulted in the seizure or refusal to import of 4,761,600 masks (of which approximately 134,000 were considered PPE), as well as 62,627 items of Personal Protective Equipment (of which 45,472 coveralls and gowns, 10,375 visors, 6,780 goggles) and 5,000 digital thermometers.

For medicinal products which have been seized or whose import has been refused, 31 742 individual doses of medicinal products have been counted. Among the medicines that have been the object of import attempts, there are the anti-flu drugs from China (“Lianhua Qinqwen Jiaonang”), popular among the Chinese community, allegedly used as medicines for COVID-19. Among these, we highlight a seizure by the Customs of Leixões of undeclared goods (19,800 individual doses of this Chinese drug), disguised between other goods correctly declared. Among other medicines allegedly used against COVID-19, whose entry into the Union territory was refused, include Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine Phosphate (1,454 individual doses), Azithromycin (373) and Ivermectin (108).