The coronavirus mask shortage shows that even the world's richest countries are nervous about the difficulty of obtaining medical supplies.
A health official at Norway’s main hospital says coronavirus mask and other equipment shortages threaten their response to the pandemic. The official says even healthcare workers in the world’s richest country are unable to procure the safety equipment they need.
While COVID-19 cases surge in more countries around the world, this supply shortage could hasten its spread. The missing equipment includes vital supplies for containing coronavirus and keeping hospital staff safe from infection.
Norway’s hospital system is lacking gloves, masks, and other safety equipment. Respirators and isolation rooms are also in short supply should the European nation face a deadly outbreak there. Nobody in Norway has been infected yet, but health authorities there believe some inevitably will.
The shortage of breathing masks is particularly dangerous for hospital staff. Those working closely with patients who have coronavirus are at a greater risk for COVID-19 infection because of their proximity to the virus.
Doctors on the front lines of the treatment effort are dying from COVID-19. On Feb. 20, three Chinese doctors died from coronavirus infection in one day.
Two days earlier, the director of Wuchang hospital in Wuhan, China, succumbed to his infection and died. He’s the most senior world health official to die from coronavirus.
Most famously, Dr. Li Wenliang, who was arrested for posting early warnings about the outbreak, contracted the virus and died weeks later.
A shortage of safety equipment also threatens hospital operations, staff, and patients suffering from other diseases.
China manufactures most of the equipment in short supply. According to the report out of Norway, China is hoarding supplies for its coronavirus response. And the production of new medical supplies has slowed or stopped.
While populations in multiple countries are panic buying face masks, health authorities are urging the public not to. Masks are flying off the shelves in China. A mask manufacturer there told Reuters a nationwide mask shortage is “much, much more severe than what the public knows.”
Health authorities in the U.S. have warned the coronavirus will inevitably infect some of the American population. They’re hoarding the masks as fears grow. Face masks are sold out in Target, CVS, and on Amazon. Health authorities in Italy have also had to warn the public not to stockpile masks.
Authorities say only those infected with coronavirus and people treating them should wear breathing masks. In fact, they say healthy people who wear them are more likely to contract the virus:
Persons who are wearing face masks tend to touch their faces more often, which can increase the risk of contagion
Hoarding masks only increases the danger to oneself and the rest of the world.
This article was edited by Josiah Wilmoth.