Why is there a mass shortage of face masks?

Coronavirus is spreading very quickly as Italy now has become the country with the most cases off Asia, Nigeria reporting their first confirmed case and the total number of cases in the UK is now up to 460. Yesterday, UK Health minister Nadine Dorries has been diagnosed positive for Coronavius, casting a shadow on the country's efforts against virus protection. So naturally, people are looking to protect themselves in any way that they can with many hoping to get their hands on a medical face mask.

And yet most pharmacy in the local cities or online shop have been undergoing mass shortage of protective face masks. Why is that?

The quick answer is that China is the world’s biggest manufacturer of them. The country can produce 20 million masks on a daily basis.However, that supply is in the condition of working to a normal demand. But with demand through the roof and mask producers only operating at around 76 percent capacity due to cities lock down, that is creating a huge shortfall.China’s domestic demand alone is at around 50 to 60 million masks every day, and that’s not even beginning to count the demand around the rest of the world. In fact, when an industrial equipment shop in Italy started selling the masks, it had sold more than 500 in the first 30 minutes of opening!

Thankfully, with China recovering from the epidemic domestically(Today Wuhan sees only single digit new confirmed cases, a promising singal showing the virus is now under contrl.), the coutntry can now have abundant capacity to produce and export face masks to other countries affected.

Can face masks prevent COVID-19?

Yes, they can.Face masks can play a role in protecting against COVID-19 because the virus is spread through infected droplets of saliva which are released when a person coughs or sneezes. They are then inhaled by other people who become infected with coronavirus too. Whereas if you are wearing a face mask, it’s much harder to inhale these infected droplets. Many people (including health experts) did not suggest unaffected people to wear a mask because, as they put it, 'it might be easier to catch the virus if people wear mask on because they can adjust the masks using their hands, which can be contaminated by the virus' Instead of putting on a mask, they suggested the best way to prevent the virus is to wash hands regularly. There are even media making public claim that 'wearing a mask can be pose more risk' Clearly the market pressure on face masks supplies has rendered media to discouraging citizens from stocking up masks. But can you take the risk?

What kind of face masks should I buy?

There are quite a few different types of face masks and understanding them and their protection can be confusing, since most people have never had an interest in buying one before.

To put it simple, masks are categorized by the level of their filtration. The higher level the filtration is, the more protective it becomes, suiting different situations.

The infographic below gives a clear explanation between surgical masks and N95 masks.


As the market gets rush on the supplies of surgical masks and N95, people also resort to one disposable medical masks, some of which can reach the protective standards of surgical masks. Citizens are suggested to wear medical masks- it is cheap, almost equally protective as surgical masks and surgical masks/N95 masks are suggested to be left to use by practitioners in the frontline, where the enviornment requires higher levels of protection.

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