Why you shouldn’t stock up on masks

Those worried about the spread of the coronavirus have been told to stop hoarding masks, gloves and other protective equipment, and that their actions are putting lives at risk.

The outbreak of the new virus has prompted people around the world to panic-buy medical equipment to protect themselves.

Surgical face masks have become the most sought after accessory of 2020, leading to sold out shelves across the world and inflated prices online.

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However, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said overnight he's concerned the worldwide supplies of protective equipment is being disrupted due to virus fears.

The head of the UN health agency said masks are vitally needed to protect the health workers fighting the coronavirus epidemic.

Masks are vital in stopping the spread of the virus. Picture: Tatan Syuflana/AP
Masks are vital in stopping the spread of the virus. Picture: Tatan Syuflana/AP

"We are concerned that countries' abilities to respond are being compromised by the severe and increasing disruption to the global supply of personal protective equipment, caused by rising demand, hoarding and misuse," he said.

"Shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for COVID-19 patients."

Dr Tedros said there was limited access to supplies such as gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns and aprons.

"We can't stop COVID-19 without protecting our health workers," he said.



His comments came just hours after French President Emmanuel Macron said his government is requisitioning all current and future stocks of protective masks.

In Iran where cases of the new virus have exploded in the past week, the nation's judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, said some people are stockpiling medical supplies for profit and urged prosecutors to show no mercy.

"Hoarding sanitising items is playing with people's lives, and it is not ignorable," he said.


WHO's official advice on masks is: "If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection."

Those who are sick can wear a mask if they are coughing and sneezing, but they are "effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water".

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"If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly."

WHO also said that before putting on a mask strict hygiene rules should be followed including cleaning hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.

"Cover mouth and nose with mask and make sure there are no gaps between your face and the mask," it said.



"Avoid touching the mask while using it; if you do, clean your hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water."

Critically, the mask needs to be changed as soon as it is damp and cannot be used again.

"To remove the mask: remove it from behind (do not touch the front of mask); discard immediately in a closed bin; clean hands with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water."

The agency has published mythbusters on the disease and is battling an "infodemic" of false information about how coronavirus spreads.

Worldwide, more than 92,000 people have been sickened and over 3100 have died, the vast majority of them in China.

Overnight, the number of countries hit by the virus reached at least 70, with Ukraine and Morocco reporting their first cases.

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