There is limited access across the globe to medical supplies including gloves and masks, the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
“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.”
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Harry Nespolon said GPs are not being supported with equipment including masks and medical gowns for an anticipated surge of patients at under-pressure hospitals.
“I’ve certainly heard of GPs going to Bunnings to try and buy masks,” he told the ABC today.
“We would rather that healthcare facilities had healthcare-standard masks and that we don’t have to resort to workarounds.”
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In a statement to news.com.au today, Bunnings chief operating officer Debbie Poole said the company apologised to customers if they had been unable to get what they need immediately.
“We are working hard to get stock to relevant stores as quickly as possible to meet customer demand and our suppliers have been a huge support in making this happen,” she said.
Last month, the Australian Dental Association said it was aware that a shortage of masks “is currently a real issue” for dental practices due to the impact of coronavirus.
The ADA this week estimated dental practices across the nation would run out within four weeks and has urged the federal government to intervene.
People in the US have also been snatching up face masks despite pleas from health officials.
Nancy Foster, head of quality and patient safety at the American Hospital Association, said patient and treatment rooms in hospitals always have a sink and soap to wash hands.
But there are no good alternatives to masks for nurses and doctors.
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Earlier this week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison assured the public there was no need to rush out to the shops.
“Australians should continue to go about their lives in their normal way and just exercise common sense in the same way you would during a severe winter season, where there may be an outbreak of flu or something like that,” he said.
He also shared a video to his official Facebook page on Tuesday titled, “Use common sense”.
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Dr Tedros said masks are vitally needed to protect health workers fighting the coronavirus epidemic however prices have surged six-fold and the cost of ventilators has tripled.
He said WHO had shipped more than half a million sets of personal protective equipment to 27 countries, but warned that “supplies are rapidly depleting”.
“We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting our health workers,” he said.
The coronavirus outbreak marks the second time in recent months Australians have rushed to Bunnings.
The household hardware chain ran out of dust face masks in December as bushfire smoke plagued NSW despite experts warning they were “close to useless” against finer particles.
As of Thursday morning, there were 50 confirmed cases of coronavirus detected in Australia.
Two people have died and a 50-year-old aged care worker was diagnosed earlier this week.