Europe

WHO warns against hoarding of masks amid the coronavirus outbreak

People outside Beijing station wear face masks. Source: AAP

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the organisation is worried about the hoarding of masks and other protective gear amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Demand for masks, gowns, gloves and other protective gear has risen by up to 100-fold and prices have soared due to the coronavirus, producing a "severe" disruption in global supply, the World Health Organisation chief says.

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 on Friday.

"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," Mr Tedros told a briefing at WHO headquarters in Switzerland.

"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.

Frontline health workers in China, where 31,211 confirmed cases of coronavirus have been reported, need the bulk of such supplies, he said.

Mr 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.

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

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