by: Franz Walker
Wednesday, March 04, 2020
As countries around the world prepare to stop the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus responsible for COVID-19, some worrying news has come to light. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that medical supplies needed to help stop the spread of the virus are quickly being depleted.
Talking to reporters at their Geneva headquarters, WHO officials called on manufacturers to “urgently increase production” of medical supplies needed to fights the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak spreading across the globe. According to WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, manufacturers would have to increase their production of personal protective gear supplies by 40 percent to meet the medical community’s needs.
“Supplies are rapidly depleting,” stated Tedros. “WHO estimates that each month 89 million medical masks will be required for the COVID-19 response, 76 million examination gloves and 1.6 million goggles.”
These sentiments were echoed in Capitol Hill by Dr. Robert Kadlec, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), who stated that the U.S. had about 35 million N95 respirator masks. This represents only 10 percent of the 3.5 billion that the country will need if COVID-19 becomes a full-blown pandemic.
A surge in global demand for N95 face masks, which are effective in protecting health-care workers from infection, has affected their supply. In China, nurses and doctors face shortages as the high demand has depleted the country’s stockpile.
Global cases on the rise
The warnings come as global cases of the coronavirus are on the rise. On Friday, WHO officials raised the risk assessment of the virus to “very high” at the global level. They later revealed on Monday that the number of new cases outside China was almost nine times higher than that inside the country in the previous 24 hours. The WHO had declared the virus a global health emergency back in January, at the same time, they had urged the public against overreacting to the virus.
120 new cases were reported by China on Tuesday, compared with 1,848 new infections in 48 other countries. Tedros confirmed that most of these new cases have come from Italy, Korea and the Islamic Republic of Iran.
“Iranian medical doctors and nurses have concerns that they don’t necessarily have enough equipment, supplies, ventilators, respirators, oxygen and all the things you’ve heard spoken about in many of the press conferences,” warned Dr. Michael Ryan, who runs WHO’s emergency program. “Those needs are more acute for the Iranian health system than they are most any other health system.”
Similar to influenza, but not quite the same
The WHO has not yet classified the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic and has maintained that its focus is on containing the spread, as of press time. Despite these efforts, the virus has moved beyond China and has now been found in almost 60 countries.
Dr. Tedros shed more light on the virus Tuesday, stating that it was similar to influenza. Like the latter, the SARS-COV19 virus spreads via small droplets of fluid from the nose and mouth of a person who’s sick. That said, he added that the virus actually doesn’t transmit as easily as influenza, highlighting the fact it infected people who aren’t sick don’t transmit it as easily compared to the flu.
“First COVID-19 does not transmit as efficiently as influenza from the data we’ve seen so far,” stated Dr. Tedros. “With influenza, people who are infected but not yet sick are major drivers of transmission, which doesn’t appear to be the case with COVID-19.”
Dr. Ryan confirmed this as well saying that while scientists don’t know exactly how the virus behaves, the fact that it wasn’t like influenza gives them some hope that it can be suppressed and contained. However, he also warned that, while health officials believe countries are being transparent about infections within their borders, they could easily be “caught unaware in an epidemic situation.”