MANILA, Philippines, February 10 ------ Demand for face masks is up to 100 times higher than normal, and prices are up twentyfold, as the unprecedented global demand fueled by the 2019-novel coronavirus (nCoV) epidemic has created potentially dangerous shortages for those who need them most, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced. The United Nations agency concerned with international public health added that the situation has been exacerbated by widespread and inappropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE) outside of patient care.
“As a result, there are now depleted stockpiles (of face masks) and backlogs of four to six months. Global stocks of masks and respirators are now insufficient to meet the needs of WHO and our partners,” said WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus over the weekend. He urged against stockpiling to ensure that health workers and those infected with the virus could still obtain them. The WHO chief said that he had decided to speak to PPE manufacturers to ensure that medical staff in particular received surgical masks. Worried over the possible global supply shortage, Philippine Red Cross chairman and CEO Sen. Richard Gordon reiterated that there is no need for healthy people to wear face masks. He stressed that frontline workers, such as doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel who come in contact with patients, as well as the personnel of government agencies like the Bureau of Immigration, Bureau of Customs, and the airports and seaports should be given priority in getting face masks and other protective gear.
“If you have a respiratory illness, even if it’s not nCoV, wear a mask so that you won’t infect others. If you are taking care of the sick, wear a mask for both your protection. If you are going to the hospital or to crowded places, wear a mask. However, avoid going to these places whenever possible. Having proper personal hygiene and etiquette, like regular and proper hand washing or covering your mouth when coughing or nose when sneezing, is way more effective,” he added. Gordon reminded the public anew not to go into panic buying or hoarding for masks because it only triggers price increases and shortage of supply.