The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared the Chinese coronavirus (2019-nCoV )outbreak to be a threat to public health. This virus has taken 213 deaths and left nearly 10,000 people infected in 23 countries of the world.
This virus has spread to major countries of the world including China, France, Germany, the US, and others. It is spreading from person to person; which is why medical experts emphasize using face masks. But unfortunately, there are reports on facemask shortage in various parts of the world such as the US, China, and Australia.
Coronavirus infection has no treatment drug or vaccine available yet. So the medical experts suggest using personal equipment for at least some protection which includes face masks.
Note that the commonly seen surgical masks are not helpful to provide complete protection. They are porous, which allows airborne pathogens to travel to the nose including coronavirus. However, they may act as a small barrier against the viral spread from droplets.
World Health Organization (WHO) emphasizes on properly using these masks. A properly fitted mask would reduce the risk of all respiratory infections such as the Chinese coronavirus.
In a place like Wuhan, which is currently the epicenter of this viral outbreak, using a face mask seems like a reasonable preventive measure. However, these face masks are needed in other cities of China as well as international destinations where this viral transmission is reported.
But in countries where the viral spread is limited, and only a few reported cases are getting the treatment in isolated healthcare facilities, these masks may not be helpful. The reason is that masks may not be of any help to common people in Australia, USA or France where only a handful of cases are reported and hence the chances of catching the virus from public places are significantly low.
The urge to buy these face masks in panic would only result in mask shortage which is, unfortunately, a case right now. WHO didn’t advise the common public to use masks during the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009 and it should do the same right now, for countries where coronavirus cases are limited.
This case if somehow different for healthcare workers who are at higher risk of Chinese coronavirus in every country. It is essential to provide them with the best quality face masks so that they treat infected patients without catching the virus. In the 2002-2003 SARS epidemic, nearly 21% of cases were reported among healthcare workers.
Also read- 4 Things to Know About Chinese Coronavirus
So anyone who has stocked these face masks to potentially use them as a self-care control of coronavirus are mistaken. There is no need if the virus is not spread to their areas. The stoppage to unnecessary face mask purchase would help to get over this shortage in areas where these masks are needed the most, right now. A similar face mask shortage was reported back in 2009 when the influenza pandemic began.
This shortage has lead to various countries releasing their stocks of medical goods i.e. face masks for health systems. One such example is Australia where the government has released one million masks at local pharmacies.
The cases of coronavirus are expected to increase and there might be an increased demand for these masks. Currently, a pandemic, Chinese coronavirus if spread to the global level, there would be a much higher demand for self-protective equipment including face masks.
Manufacturers of face masks and other personal protective equipment should be prepared to increase their production to meet the high demand. China is the largest producer of such medical goods but currently, it may not be able to support this face mask demand. Hence arises the need to produce good quality face masks to control coronavirus at the personal level by other leading manufacturing countries.