The South African Police Service (SAPS) says more arrests are imminent as authorities have seized hundreds of fake COVID-19 vaccines following a global alert issued by Interpol.

Police released a statement on Wednesday providing details on the initial raid at a warehouse in Meadowdale, Germiston which took place in mid-November last year.

Police seized thousands of counterfeit coronavirus vaccines in South Africa and China arresting more than 80 people who are part of the criminal network selling fake jabs.

Interpol has warned that this represents only the tip of the iceberg in vaccine-related crime.

Police officers found 400 ampoules of fake vaccines, equivalent to around 2 400 doses, at a warehouse just outside Johannesburg.

A large quantity of fake masks was also found and police arrested three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national.

National police spokesperson Brenda Muridili says Gauteng organised-crime police received information that people were involved in the smuggling, storing and distributing of COVID-19 vaccines and a large quantity of counterfeit masks and unregistered vaccines were found.

Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock says, “Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine-related crime…”

“These arrests, underline the unique role of Interpol in bringing together key players from both the public and private sectors to protect public safety.”

“Following our warning that criminals would target the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, both on and offline, Interpol continues to provide its full support to national authorities working to protect the health and safety of their citizens,” added Stock.

Police seize hundreds of fake COVID-19 vaccines in Germiston:

China cracks fake COVID-19 vaccine ring, confiscates 3 000 doses

Chinese police arrested more than 80 people and confiscated over 3 000 fake doses of COVID-19 vaccine as part of a campaign to combat vaccine-related crimes, state news agency Xinhua reported.

The suspects had been carrying out the ruse since at least September last year, Xinhua said on Monday, adding that all fake doses had been tracked down.

The fake vaccines were made by injecting saline into syringes, it said.

The suspects may have intended to send the vaccines abroad, the government-backed Global Times newspaper reported, citing a source close to a major Chinese vaccine producer.

The police operation was carried out by police in multiple places including Beijing, Shanghai and the eastern province of Shandong, Xinhua said.

Countries around the world have been rolling out vaccine programmes in the hope of bringing the year-long coronavirus pandemic to an end.