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Panic buying face masks risks global shortage, warn WHO

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WHO has warned that panic buying of face masks and PPE could soon trigger a global shortage of vital equipment that frontline medical workers are most in need of in the fight against coronavirus.


On Thursday the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued advice to say that the global stockpile of PPE is “insufficient” particularly for medical masks and respirators.

“The supply of gowns and goggles is soon expected to be insufficient also. Surging global demand − driven not only by the number of COVID-19 cases but also by misinformation, panic buying, and stockpiling − will result in further shortages of PPE globally," says the advice.

"The capacity to expand PPE production is limited, and the current demand for respirators and masks cannot be met, especially if widespread inappropriate use of PPE continues.”

Wearing a mask is not recommended for anyone unless they have symptoms of coronavirus, such as a cough or fever.

This is because the COVID-19 virus is transmitted between people through close contact and droplets, not by airborne transmission.

For persons without symptoms of Covid-19, wearing a mask of any type is not recommended: WHO

As hospital workers and other emergency workers are in continuous contact with patients and members of the public, WHO says it’s vital that people stop panic buying masks to leave them for this group, who do need the masks.

“For persons without symptoms, wearing a mask of any type is not recommended," says the guidance. "Wearing medical masks when they are not indicated may cause unnecessary cost and a procurement burden and create a false sense of security that can lead to the neglect of other essential preventive measures.”

The warnings came as health secretary Matt Hancock today admitted “problems” in getting PPE to ambulance workers and doctors.

Speaking to the BBC, he said: “We’ve got a huge programme of work, making sure that millions of masks, of aprons, of gloves, of all the other equipment, are delivered.”

"There have been challenges and I can see that. We're on it and trying to solve all the problems."

GMB has also called for priority emergency PPE  and priority testing – ‘test, test, test’ being the urgent advice from WHO’s director general – for ambulance workers.

The union said ambulance workers have arrived on shifts to find no hand sanitiser, face masks or wipes.

Rachel Harrison, GMB National Officer, said: “The stories we are getting from  front line are obscene.

"How can you expect our emergency workers to deal with the COVID-19 crisis without hand sanitiser, wipes or masks?”

NHS England’s chief operating officer, Amanda Pritchard, on Tuesday accepted there had been distribution issues that meant protective equipment such as face masks, goggles and aprons were not in the right place across the health service.

Rational use of personal protective equipment (PPE) for coronavirus disease - WHO iguidance published 19 March here

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