The World Health Organization warned that panic buying and hoarding of medical masks and other protective equipment amid the coronavirus outbreak are causing shortages that put health care workers’ lives at risk.
The global organization on Tuesday urged industries and governments to increase manufacturing of protective items by 40% to meet surging global demand.
“Without secure supply chains, the risk to healthcare workers around the world is real,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, 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.”
People have been snapping up protective gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns and aprons as the COVID-19 outbreak has spread. Prices of some items have skyrocketed sixfold, WHO said.
“Supplies can take months to deliver and market manipulation is widespread, with stocks frequently sold to the highest bidder,” the global organization said in a statement. “WHO has so far shipped nearly half a million sets of personal protective equipment to 47 countries, but supplies are rapidly depleting.”
The U.S. Surgeon General has repeatedly urged the general public to stop buying masks, insisting that they don’t stop users from contracting diseases like the coronavirus. Masks usually only protect the user from spreading airborne diseases to others, making them essential for those who are already ill.
“People are buying masks because they are worried & want to protect themselves. I get it. But here are some better/proven ways to [reduce] your risk of #Coronavirus AND #flu,” tweeted Surgeon General Dr. Jerome M. Adams.
Instead of trying to buy scarce items, Adams recommended proper hand washing, cleaning surfaces, staying away from those who are sick and getting a flu shot.
For most Americans, the risk of contracting the coronavirus remains low. Those in communities where cases have been reported face an elevated risk, though still relatively low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.