The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of a global shortage and price gouging for protective equipment to fight the fast-spreading coronavirus and asked companies and governments to increase production by 40 percent as the death toll from the respiratory illness mounted.
The virus continued to spread in South Korea, Japan, Europe, Iran and the United States, and several countries reported their first confirmed cases, taking the total to some 80 nations hit with the flu-like illness that can lead to pneumonia.
In Iran, doctors and nurses lack supplies and 77 people have died, one of the highest numbers outside China. The United Arab Emirates announced it was closing all schools for four weeks.
The death toll in Italy, Europe’s hardest-hit country, jumped to 79 on March 3 and Italian officials are considering expanding the area under quarantine. France reported its fourth coronavirus death, while Indonesia, Ukraine, Argentina and Chile reported their first coronavirus cases.
About 3.4 percent of confirmed cases of COVID-19 have died, far above seasonal flu’s fatality rate of under 1 percent, but the virus can be contained, the WHO chief said on March 3.
“To summarize, COVID-19 spreads less efficiently than flu, transmission does not appear to be driven by people who are not sick, it causes more severe illness than flu, there are not yet any vaccines or therapeutics, and it can be contained,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in Geneva.
Health officials have said the death rate is 2 to 4 percent depending on the country and may be much lower if there are thousands of unreported mild cases of the disease.
Since the coronavirus outbreak, prices of surgical masks have increased sixfold, N95 respirators have tripled in cost and protective gowns cost twice as much, the WHO said.
It estimates healthcare workers each month will need 89 million masks, 76 million gloves and 1.6 million pairs of goggles.
The coronavirus, which emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, has spread around the world, with more new cases now appearing outside China than inside.
There are almost 91,000 cases globally of which more than 80,000 are in China. China’s official death toll was 2,946, with more than 166 fatalities elsewhere.
With the world’s second largest economy struggling to get back on track, China is increasingly concerned about the virus being brought back into the country by citizens returning from new hotspots elsewhere.
Travelers entering Beijing from South Korea, Japan, Iran and Italy would have to be quarantined for 14 days, a city official said. Shanghai has introduced a similar order.
The worst outbreak outside China is in South Korea, where President Moon Jae-in declared war on the virus, ordering additional hospital beds and more masks as cases rose by 600 to nearly 5,000, with 34 deaths.
Moon ordered masks to be stockpiled as a strategic item, so suppliers can increase output without fear of producing surplus.
There have been long queues outside retail stores and online suppliers have been selling out as soon as stock arrives, even though the WHO says healthy people only need to wear masks if they are caring for someone who is sick.