Saturday, October 1

Cheating and illegal sale of antigen tests in Europe’s biggest Chinese bazaar

It is Monday and the psychosis due to the lack of antigen tests has partially diminished. After Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the locals take a breath in favor of a truce that will not last long. The queues to try to acquire them languish, and the wind, which lashes from the first hour, ends up clearing the landscape. This, however, does not alleviate the lack of Covid detectors. In a pharmacy in the northeast of Madrid they receive 42 tests. They do not last more than ten minutes. “Everyone who arrives asks for the same thing,” says the person in charge. Chaos gives way to momentum. Getting an antigen, just a few days before New Year’s Eve, is almost a chimera; at least legally.

Cobo Calleja: it’s 12 in the morning and in a bar on Manuel Cobo Calleja street, central axis of the largest Chinese bazaar in Europe, they have it clear. “Yes they are sold, but I don’t know exactly where”says one of the waitresses. His answer is not surprising to the few customers that are concentrated there. The search begins. At the first stop, an Asian woman shakes her head when asked. “This is a parapharmacy, tests only in pharmacies,” he stresses, without much desire to continue the conversation. To tell the truth, the look on his face denotes frankness.

The route continues and in the second place, labeled with the word ‘masks’ in the window, you can see the first slip. “Individual or pharmacies”demands the shop assistant. The question is direct; the reaction of the interpellated, not so much. “If you have a card you can buy, the minimum is 800”, adds a second merchant, with distrust marked on his face. At this point, one thing is clear: there are antigen tests, a separate question is to obtain them. But the doubts dissipate fast. By surprise and point-blank, as great stories are usually born, a young woman calmly displays the envelopes. He points to a small shelf in an establishment that looks like a pharmacy. Green letters, sanitary products, a cross on the facade … but all very far from being real.

A self-diagnostic test acquired in the ‘Asian polygon’ by ABC – OF SAN BERNARDO

The tests cost 5 euros and are approved by the European Community (CE). That is, they are valid, even if the supply point does not have any type of authorization. This newspaper buys one and requests the ticket: “‘Hotgen’, VAT included, no changes or refunds accepted.” Easy, no waiting … that simple and that rare. In reality, everything would fit if it weren’t for the fact that the Spanish Government only allows the sale of self-diagnostic tests without a prescription in pharmacies. And in the Cobo Calleja industrial estate there is not a single one of the 2,910 open currently in the region.

With the antigen in hand, it is not surprising that the merchant refuses to appear in the photos. “The tests are classified as health products”, reminds ABC the president of the Official College of Pharmacists of Madrid (COFM), Luis González, upset by the illegal trafficking of a good now more than ever necessary. The alarms in the Fuenlabrada industrial estate do not stop. Back to the car, a jewelery trade draws attention. The earrings, pendants, rings and rings coexist with a string of stacked mask boxes. On one side, clients can dress up for the occasion; to the other, to face the Covid. A crude improvised naked-eye conversion that hides something else inside.

“You should take 20”

«Antigen test? How many do you want?”. The blow, not expected, ceases to be strong. The worker laughs. «One? Impossible. You should take 20 “, short, happy. The questions accumulate and the confident mood of the vending machine gives a turn of 180. “If you want, you have to go to another nearby store, but first I have to talk to my boss.” The conversation ends abruptly, both parties convinced of the awkwardness of the moment. One store, located on the next block, appears to be the other nearby store. The reason? The same flag – that of Spain, as curious as it may seem – the same name and the same sign. Warned or not, the truth is that a woman of Chinese origin, with the face of few friends, refutes the statement. “No, we don’t have a test.” And the search for the lost treasure comes to a halt. But not for long.

Another store, selling costume jewelery and masks, where they deal with tests
Another store, selling costume jewelery and masks, where they deal with tests – OF SAN BERNARDO

The poster of the next and last point consulted points out ways: ‘Medicine. EPI Product ‘. The tests here, as in most pharmacies – remember: the only spaces authorized to sell this type of product – have been sold out for days. With some suspicion, the shopkeeper answers some of the questions raised and confirms that she does not know when they will have ‘stock’ again. Just in case, extend a card and discharge the responsibility to the commercial director. “Call this number and the warehouse manager will tell you better,” he clarifies. The feeling of impunity grows unfortunately for a polygon that for years has tried to deal with the stigma of illegality.

The problem, in the words of the president of the pharmacists, lies in the market shortage. «We are acquiring the tests in those distributors that are legally authorized. But the lack of supply has caused third parties to appear cheating with products that do not meet all the requirements or imposing abusive costs, “he says, aware of the discomfort due to the abrupt variation in prices. «If they sell me the tests for 10 euros, I won’t buy them. But if it did, the minimum would be to sell them for the same thing, “he says, without understanding the current lack of stocks.


Between December 13 and 19, in the Community of Madrid 761,137 antigen tests were sold, according to data from the pharmaceutical consultancy Iqvia. To account for the magnitude of this figure, it must be compared with the ‘stock’ expected in pharmacies for the same period: 88,978 tests. An amount nine times lower to the dispensed, which shows the replenishment undertaken against the clock to avoid total shortages.

It should also be remembered that last Monday the distribution of the free units of the Community of Madrid was resumed. Until yesterday, the region’s pharmacies had delivered to the population about 1,300,000 tests, of the 12 million that the Government of Isabel Díaz Ayuso has bought. If what is announced is fulfilled, 6 million will go to drugstores and the other 6 to hospitals and outpatient clinics. An intense job that some on the black market try to profit from.

From the College of Pharmacists they warn of the appearance of advertisements on sale portals such as Wallapop, where they can be purchased for between 15 and 20 euros. Professionals recall the importance of safeguarding medicines and medical devices, “an unequivocal sign of their safety and quality.” The urgency of citizens to get one of these diagnoses in the face of family celebrations is taken advantage of by those who desperately search for a new way of doing business. Either in the Cobo Calleja industrial estate or by reselling the material through the internet.

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