People are desperate: Thieves in Japan have made off with some 6,000 surgical masks from a hospital, with the country facing a mass shortage and a huge price hike online due to the coronavirus. Four boxes containing the face masks disappeared from a locked storage facility at the Japanese Red Cross hospital in the western port city of Kobe, a hospital official said on Tuesday. “We still have a large number of masks — enough to continue our daily operations at the hospital, but this is so deplorable,” the official told AFP. Police have launched an investigation as they suspect the thieves intend to resell the masks.
Masks have sold out at many drug and discount stores across the nation as the number of infections have increased in Japan — one of the most affected countries after China where the death toll from the virus has hit 1,800. Public anxiety has been also fueled by headlines of hundreds of people infected with the virus on board a ship quarantined off Japan. The theft came after knife-wielding men jumped a delivery driver and stole hundreds of toilet rolls on Monday in Hong Kong, where the coronavirus outbreak has fueled a run on face masks, hand sanitizer and toilet paper. Japanese flea market app Mercari called on its users to trade masks “within socially accepted limits” after a box of 65 masks was priced at more than 50,000 yen ($456) at its online marketplace. The Japanese government has “strongly requested” mask makers to boost output, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters last week. There has been a shortage of masks at drug stores in the hygiene-conscious nation where face masks have been part of everyday street-wear for decades. –Yahoo
A box of face masks were selling on the U.S. site Ebay for nearly $12,000
Supplies dwindle in the US: While the coronavirus has caused 29 confirmed cases in the U.S., the country sources the bulk of its surgical masks, respirators and other “personal protective equipment” from China, where the disease has killed 1,770 and infected tens of thousands. The epidemic has not only disrupted mask production in the country, it has also sent China’s own demand for medical supplies soaring. Now hospitals in the U.S. are having to ration their inventory amid one of the worst flu seasons in decades. Last week, staff at Mt. Sinai Health Systems received an email informing them that, among other measures, surgical masks will only be available in departments such as intensive care units, divisions involved in infection prevention and emergency departments, according to a person familiar with the matter.
It was a similar situation two states away, where a pediatric doctor practicing in Maryland said the hospital is unable to receive more shipments of masks. “It’s an issue because I need to wear a mask every time I go into a patient’s room and I can’t reuse a mask from one room to another. I’ve probably used 10 masks today, at least,” the doctor said. “We joked earlier today that they would have the medical students cover the surgeons’ mouths in the operating room with their hands. [I’m] not sure what the options would be.” It is a situation that mask manufacturers in the country have been warning about for years. “I have been preaching that you’re going to have an outage, a total collapse of the U.S. mask supply, and it’s like I’m talking Greek,” said Mike Bowen, the founder of Prestige Ameritch, a Texas-based medical supply maker.
Every man for himself in this COVID-19 outbreak: Countries like Thailand ban the export of face masks to make sure there’s an ample domestic supply in the event of an outbreak
“I’ve sent thousands of emails, I’ve been in hundreds of meetings, I’ve talked to politicians and hospital administrators, hospital purchasing people. … They don’t believe me. And now they’re seeing that I was right.” Over 90% of the personal protective equipment used in the U.S. is made overseas, with China as the biggest supplier, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. –Asian Review