On scramble for masks, health minister Harsh Vardhan’s advice, and a warning
Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan said on Friday that there is no need to create panic about the need to wear masks, as India has put in place stringent measures to fight the spread of coronavirus. He also said that strict action should be taken against shopkeepers who are charging more than the fixed price for masks.
This comes after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in Maharashtra started regulating the sale and storage of coronavirus kits to prevent hoarding and overpricing.
FDA commissioner Arun Unhale said that the Maharashtra government and FDA had received several complaints of chemists selling PPE kits and N-95 masks at prices higher than the MRP.
The FDA directed chemists to sell PPE kits and masks only on doctors’ prescription. This state’s health department had said on Thursday that it said it is not essential for the general population to use masks at the current moment.
Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain had also said that there is no need for panic buying of masks. “People do not need to buy hand sanitisers and masks. The hand sanitiser is not the cure; hand washing for 20 seconds with soap and water is in fact much better. As for masks, only people working in hospitals, caring for those who have Covid-19 need a mask. People in the community do not need it,” Jain had said on Thursday.
Since the day the novel strain of the virus broke out in Wuhan province of China in December last year, there has been a surge in the demand for masks which are believed to be effective in controlling the spread of the virus. Many people started wearing masks as a precaution to ward off infection.
Members of Parliament have also started wearing masks. In fact, independent member from Maharashtra’s Amravati, Navneet Ravi Rana, on Thursday asked a question in Lok Sabha wearing a mask.
Some security staff too were wearing masks and gloves while scanning visitors in Parliament on Thursday.
Due to the surge in demand, the price of masks has shot up multiple times as people are resorting to panic buying. “There is panic among the people about coronavirus and demand for masks has increased, due to which the price of them have inflated. The N-95 mask which used to sell at ₹50-60 but now it has been selling at the rate of ₹280-300,” said Mohit Goyal, the treasurer of chemist association in New Delhi’s Nai Basti.
The situation is same across the world. South Korea, which has the highest number of infections outside China, announced strict controls on face masks, which have been in such high demand that people have stood in line for hours to buy them. Beginning Friday, exports of masks will be prohibited and South Koreans will be limited to buying two masks a week, and only on specific days determined by the year of their birth. “A new risk is always scarier than one we’re familiar with because it has elements of the unknown,” said David Ropeik, who authored the book “How Risky Is It, Really?”
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also said that people should wear a mask only if they are coughing or sneezing. “Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection,” the WHO said.
Close to one lakh people worldwide have been infected with the novel strain of the coronavirus, the vast majority of them in China where the outbreak originated. More than 3,200 people have died, but 51,000 have recovered after being treated. In India, the number of infected people has reached 31.