Thieves have stolen 80,000 face masks which were destined for the NHS and front-line workers.
The £166,000 worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) was taken when three people broke into a warehouse in Salford on Wednesday.
Det Insp Chris Mannion, from Greater Manchester Police, said it was a “particularly sickening crime”.
The masks were to be supplied to the NHS, along with councils and care homes, in West Yorkshire.
The high-quality n95 respirator masks were taken from the warehouse of a medical supplies firm at the Trafalgar Business Park overnight.
The gang spent about two hours at the premises, first cutting a hole in the warehouse steel shutters so as not to trigger burglar alarms by lifting up the door.
They then removed 320 boxes, or 10 pallets’ worth, of the masks.
Other medical equipment, including cheaper quality masks also housed at the site, were left untouched.
‘One common enemy’
Police want to trace three offenders – two men and a third person, possibly a woman, who were all wearing dark clothing – who made off with the haul in three vehicles, a white Mercedes Sprinter van, a grey Volkswagen Caddy van and a grey silver estate vehicle.
Detectives believe they were at the site between 21:30 BST on Wednesday and 00:20 on Thursday, when the alarm was raised by a security guard.
“It is shocking there are people prepared to steal the equipment which protects vulnerable people and front-line workers,” Det Insp Mannion said.
“This is a particularly sickening crime when you consider that the PPE was intended for the NHS and for care home workers and at a time when we are trying to protect the NHS and one another against one common enemy in Covid-19.
“Clearly there’s an open market there and there’s any number of ways that these people can sell on the goods stolen from here.”