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Panic buying of masks puts health care workers’ ‘lives at risk,’ WHO says

Panic buying of masks puts health care workers’ ‘lives at risk,’ WHO says


Health care workers may be left ill-equipped

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A doctor wearing a mask while working at El Alto International Airport in Bolivia.
Photo by AIZAR RALDES/AFP via Getty Images

A shortage of masks, gloves, and other protective gear “is putting lives at risk from the new coronavirus and other infectious diseases” warned the World Health Organization (WHO) in a statement on Tuesday. A frightened public has been buying up masks and other equipment, leaving limited supplies for health care workers who need the gear the most.

Masks can be useful for people who are sick with a respiratory virus to keep them from spreading the illness to others. They are most useful for health care workers who come face to face with disease every day.

Health experts, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), do not currently recommend that people who are well wear masks as protection against diseases like the new coronavirus. People have bought them anyway, in such huge amounts that the WHO is worried that the people who need them the most won’t be able to get them. Supplies are dwindling. The price of surgical gowns has doubled; the price of surgical masks is now six times higher than it was at the start of the outbreak.

“Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first.”

The surgeon general recently made a similar appeal over Twitter begging people to stop buying masks. He also warned that improperly wearing masks could actually increase the spread of the disease.

The WHO is asking manufacturers to increase production by 40 percent. They estimate that 89 million masks will be needed by health care workers every month, along with 76 million gloves and 1.6 million goggles.

TV manufacturer Sharp recently announced that they would start making masks in one of their Japanese factories this month, in order to deal with the growing shortage of the products. Amazon has warned sellers against price gouging items like masks. The company has also scrubbed a million products making misleading claims about curing or preventing COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

More than 90,000 cases of COVID-19 have been diagnosed globally, and more than 3,000 people have died. Health officials recommend that people protect themselves from the disease by staying home when sick, covering their mouths when they sneeze, and washing their hands thoroughly and frequently.