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Original article

Vol. 151 No. 0304 (2021)

Distribution of low quality filtering facepiece respirators during the COVID-19 pandemic: an independent analysis of the situation in Switzerland

Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2021;151:w20459



SARS-CoV-2 is a respiratory virus. Transmission occurs by droplets, contact and aerosols. In medical settings, filtering facepiece (FFP) respirators are recommended for use by personnel exposed to aerosol-generating procedures. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for FFP respirators exceeded their supply worldwide and low-quality products appeared on the market, potentially putting healthcare workers at risk.


To raise awareness about variations in quality of imported FFP respirators in Switzerland during the COVID-19 pandemic, to draw attention to the current directives regulating the market launch of FFP respirators in Switzerland, to provide practical support in identifying suspicious products or documents and, finally, to offer strategies aimed at reducing the distribution of low-quality FFP respirators in the future.


Three Swiss laboratories, Spiez Laboratory and Unisanté in partnership with TOXpro SA individually set up testing procedures to evaluate aerosol penetration and fit testing of FFP respirators imported into Switzerland during COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, Spiez Laboratory visually inspected the products, examined the certification documents and crosschecked the product information with international databases.


Between 31 March and 15 June 2020, 151 FFP respirators were analysed. The initial assessment performed before testing allowed a reduction of up to 35% in the number of FFP respirators sent to Spiez Laboratory for evaluation, for which product information found to be faulty. After filtration efficiency evaluation and fit testing, 52% and 60% of all products tested by Spiez Laboratory and Unisanté-TOXpro SA, respectively, did not meet the minimum performance requirements established independently by the three Swiss laboratories.


The demand for FFP respirators exceeded the supply capacity from established suppliers of the Swiss market. New production and import channels emerged, as did the number of poor-quality FFP respirators. FFP respirators remaining in stocks should be checked for conformity before being used, or eliminated and replaced if quality does not meet standards.


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