Panic buying of face masks and other supplies puts healthcare workers at risk, says WHO

Customers wearing protective face masks are seen leaving a pharmacy in London, Britain, March 4, 2020.

WHO officials urge consumers to leave the purchases of gloves and face masks to health professionals. Image: REUTERS / Toby Melville

Linda Lacina
Digital Editor, World Economic Forum
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  • Panic buying of medical supplies is putting health workers' lives at risk.
  • The WHO asked industry and government leaders this week to increase manufacturing of protective gear by 40%.
  • The WHO estimates that nearly 90 million face masks a month could be needed to fight the virus.

Looking to help fight coronavirus? Stop buying face masks, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO released a warning this week that “severe and mounting” disruptions to the the global supply of personal protective equipment were putting healthcare workers' lives at risk.

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Rising demand, as well as panic buying and misuse have contributed to the shortage. As a result, doctors and nurses do not have the tools they need to treat the virus and reduce the rate of new infections.

Says WHO, “shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other frontline workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for COVID-19 patients, due to limited access to supplies such as gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns, and aprons.”

To address the shortage, WHO has asked for industry and governments to increase manufacturing by 40% to meet rising global demand. It has also asked for eased export restrictions.

The WHO has called on consumers to ensure key supplies such as face masks and medical gloves stay in the hands of healthcare workers.

Around the world, some retailers have been forced to limit purchases to a range of goods, as consumers stockpile everything from face masks and hand sanitiser to the type of freeze-dried meals typically dispatched during national disasters.

“We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first.”

WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

In some countries, such as France, thousands of face masks and bottles of sanitizing gel have been stolen from Paris hospitals, reports CNN.

The U.S. said this week that the country had around 1% of the masks it needs to tackle a “full blown pandemic.”

“Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real. Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply,” according to WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The WHO estimates that nearly 90 million medical masks will be required each month to fight the Coronavirus. The response could also require 76 million sterile examination gloves and 1.6 million pairs of goggles, the organization told reporters this week.

“We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first,” says Dr. Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

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