In new guidelines, Interpol warns of fake vaccines, COVID-19 infected letters

Few instances of threatening letters contaminated with COVID-19 sent to politicians


From anthrax to COVID-19, the humble letter remains a potent tool for biowarfare. Interpol’s updated guidelines for law enforcement have warned of the danger of people deliberately coughing or spitting onto letters which could then be sent to political leaders.

Interpol notes that of the one million plus who had died of COVID-19 around the world, several hundred were police officers. The updated guidelines sought to help protect law enforcement from the risks of COVID-19 infection in the course of their duties.

However, in the section titled ‘Intimidation and deliberate contamination spread’, Interpol notes that law enforcement agencies should consider increasing their monitoring based on the following modi operandi, which refer to deliberate acts with an actual risk of contamination spread.

It notes instances of individuals spitting and coughing in the faces of law enforcement officers, health practitioners and essential workers to intimidate them. Worryingly, it adds that, despite limited risk, there have been a few cases of threatening letters allegedly contaminated with COVID-19 targeted political figures. This modus operandi could also target other vulnerable groups, the guidelines say.

Interpol also warned of infected people deliberately moving from affected areas to non-affected areas, despite their medical condition and any travel restrictions in place. It also states that instances of individuals claiming to sell contaminated samples of body fluids online have been reported.

The agency also notes the increased presence of fake and counterfeit medical products including face masks, hand sanitisers and even vaccines.  

“High demand combined with a limited supply will make COVID-19 vaccines the equivalent of liquid gold to organized crime networks as soon as one is available," Jürgen Stock, Interpol Secretary-General said, calling for immediate action to both protect the legitimate supply chain for when the vaccine is ready and to prevent the production and distribution of fake COVID-19 vaccines.

“As the global COVID-19 situation continues to evolve, so must the law enforcement response and these updated guidelines provide a useful reference document for frontline officers to protect themselves and the communities they serve,” concluded Secretary General Stock.

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