The World Health Organisation has warned of a "chronic shortage" of masks and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) globally.
Demand 100 times higher than normal
WHO's director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Feb. 7 that demand for PPE was 100 times higher than normal, and prices had risen to 20 times higher, The Guardian reports.
As result, global stocks of masks and respirators were now "insufficient to meet the needs of WHO and our partners", according to CNA.
Describing the situation as a moral issue, he said the shortage was due to "widespread inappropriate use" by those who were not sick or not medical staff.
The market for PPE had faced "severe disruption", with Ghebreyesus adding that there were delays of four to six months in supply.
He urged countries with low transmission and fewer cases not to stockpile protective suits and surgical masks, which were badly needed in Chinese hospitals.
"There is limited stock of PPE and we have to make sure we get it to the people who need it most, in the places that need it most," he said.
Ghebreyesus also praised companies which have chosen to only sell masks to medical professionals.
To try and resolve the shortage, Ghebreyesus said that he would speak to the pandemic supply chain network to "identify the bottlenecks" and "push for fairness in distribution of equipment".
Thus far, the coronavirus has killed 722 people in mainland China and infected over 34,000.
The scramble for masks has seen people, including celebrities, travelling overseas to buy masks in bulk to send back to China.
Shortages in-stores in Singapore have also compelled the government to supply mask packs for free to all households.
Top photo from Piximus.net