28 Mar 2020

NZ volunteers pitch in to make thousands of face shields

6:52 pm on 28 March 2020

Volunteers are using 3D printers to make tens of thousands of face shields for health workers helping in the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis across the country.

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Martin Vieregg has been making face masks to help deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Supplied

The Ministry of Health is adamant there is enough protective equipment in New Zealand, but medical professionals say it is not reaching front lines.

Kāpiti College technology teacher Martin Vieregg said an Auckland 3D printer supplier asked if he could help print face shields for health workers.

Vieregg said he sent the face shield design to his sister and a friend, who both work in health, to get their thoughts.

"They both instantly replied, 'yes, we need them now'... and in fact, one said that they would straight away take 2000. That's when the penny dropped," he said.

Now a network of people with more than 140 printers are producing protective face shields and delivering them to medical centres.

The 3D printer enthusiasts were largely paying for the materials for the face masks themselves, he said.

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Vieregg with the masks ready to go. Photo: Supplied

Before the country went into lockdown, Vieregg tracked down large sheets of plastic for the clear visor, so has enough plastic to print the shield's frame.

After receiving an essential worker letter from his local GP, he delivered more than 60 face shields to two medical centres on the Kāpiti Coast and one in Wellington.

Demand was so high, almost 20,000 face shields had been requested by medical professionals and members of the public so far, he said.

"It's frightening that these people who are on the front line are having to rely on people at home in their garages to keep them safe. That astounds me," Vieregg said.

As the shields are printed, the material is heated to more than 200 degrees and then wrapped in plastic, reducing risk of contamination.

On Thursday, Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said personal protective equipment supplies, including masks, gloves, gowns, and visors, were plentiful and distribution was being made "rock-solid".

About 600,000 masks would be released to district health boards from pandemic stock after calls from the healthcare sector for more supplies, Bloomfield said.

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