EU prolongs duty-free import of face masks, medical gear

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission extended until the end of October a waiver of customs duties and sales taxes on imported face masks and other medical gear to help tackle shortages as the bloc fights the coronavirus epidemic.

The measure was initially adopted in April for the period covering the first six months of the year, and has now been extended to Oct. 31. It will also be applied by the United Kingdom.

“Today’s decision is due to the risks posed to public health by the number of coronavirus cases in member states and to the shortages of medical equipment which are still recorded,” the EU executive commission said in a statement released on Thursday.

Masks, testing kits and ventilators are among imported items that will continue to be exempted from sale tax and customs duties in the 27-nation bloc and Britain.

Medical gear was in short supply when the pandemic first hit countries in the bloc in March. The problem is less intense now as most European nations have long past the peak of their outbreaks, but shortages could re-emerge in the event of a second large wave, which is considered possible in the autumn.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio; Editing by Nick Macfie