8 Feb 2020

Coronavirus: Demand for masks soars 100-fold, WHO says

6:57 am on 8 February 2020

Demand for masks, gowns, gloves and other protective gear has risen up to 100-fold and prices have soared due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, the World Health Organisation's chief says.

Workers producing face masks at a factory in Handan in China's northern Hebei province, on 22 January 2020.

Workers producing face masks at a factory in Handan in China's northern Hebei province, on 22 January 2020. Photo: AFP

The situation has been made worse by people who are not medical workers buying the protective gear for their own use, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

"When supplies are short and demand is high, then there could be bad practices like hoarding in order to sell them at higher prices, and that's why we ask for solidarity," Tedros told a briefing at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

"Demand is up to 100 times higher than normal and prices are up to 20 times higher," and the rush has created supply backlogs of four to six months, he added.

Deaths in mainland China reached 637, with a total of 31,211 cases, Tedros said in Geneva.

The epicentre region of Hubei is in lockdown and the capital Beijing resembles a ghost town.

Frontline health workers in China need the bulk of such supplies, Tedros said.

Tedros said that he had spoken to manufacturers and distributors to ensure supplies for those who need them most, with health care workers a priority, followed by the sick and those caring for them.

The WHO has sent gloves, masks, respirators and other "personal protective equipment" - known as PPE in its jargon - to every region, he said.

Tedros said that he had just spoken to the WHO's "pandemic supply chain network" which includes manufacturers, distributors, and logistics providers to ensure that protective supplies reach those in need.

"We call on countries and companies to work with WHO to ensure fair and rational use of supplies and the re-balancing of the market. We all have a part to play in keeping each other safe."

The public and private network was focusing first on surgical masks because of the extreme demand and market pressures, Tedros said, adding: "We are appreciative of companies who have taken the decision to only supply masks to medical professionals."

Canadians return from Wuhan

A plane from Wuhan carrying an initial group of 176 Canadian evacuees has landed at Trenton air force base in Ontario.

A second group, who left China on a US flight, should arrive later after switching planes in Vancouver, Francois-Philippe Champagne, minister of foreign affairs, told reporters.

A further 39 Canadians are on board the American evacuation flight, Global Affairs Canada said.

No one on board the plane from Wuhan that landed in Trenton showed symptoms of the coronavirus or other illness during the flight, Health Minister Patty Hajdu told CBC Radio.

All evacuees will be quarantined on the base for two weeks, separated from each other in a building that resembles a small hotel, with families kept together.

One evacuee, Edward Wang, was promised a seat on the US plane along with his mother, also a Canadian citizen. He is eager to be back in Canada and nervous about the lack of hospital beds in Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak.

"You imagine things like this happening in war zones," he said, speaking before the flights left. "It feels so surreal."

While most of the passengers are Canadian citizens because of rules set by the Chinese government, Canadian authorities said that some permanent residents would be allowed on board to accompany minors.

A second Canadian flight is scheduled to leave Wuhan on 10 February, Champagne said.

Five cases had been confirmed in Canada, and the country has told citizens not to travel to Hubei province, and to avoid non-essential travel to the rest of China.


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