Coronavirus: citizens urged to donate face masks to hospitals

Coronavirus: citizens urged to donate face masks to hospitals
'Please donate your masks to a nearby hospital,' Belgian virologist pleas. Credit: Belga

Medical workers on the front lines of Belgium's response to the coronavirus pandemic are sounding the alarm over the shortage of protective gear and mouth masks in particular.

"For citizens walking in the street, these masks serve no purpose, but for nurses and doctors saving the lives of Covid-19 patients, these masks are essential," virologist Marc Van Ranst said.

Van Ranst, a Belgian virologist who has been outspoken about the country's response to the coronavirus pandemic, called on citizens who "massively" stocked up on protective mouth masks to donate them to a nearby hospital.

"Our nurses and doctors really need these masks," he tweeted, adding: "This is how you really help health workers!"

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Van Ranst's message coincides with the alarm sound by Geert Meyfroidt from Leuven's University Hospital (UZ Leuven)' intensive care unit, who told De Standaard the hospital was "very concerned" about the mouth mask shortages.

"We do not want to be like a firefighter who is sent into a burning building without a suit," Meyfroidt said, adding that hospital staff was most concerned about specialised filtering masks, rather than ordinary paper ones.

"We need them when we are hanging above patients, inserting a breathing tube, performing an endoscopy, or whenever we are in a room where a patient is on a ventilator and is spreading the virus," he said.

The statements come against the backdrop of a global supply shortage of protective medical gear and mouth masks in particular, with public concern over the virus sending sells soaring, despite reminders that they were not necessary for healthy people.

As the coronavirus outbreak accelerated through Europe, a Belgian virologist readying the country's response to the arrival of the virus in the country said that medical masks with filters (type FFP2 and FFP3) should be reserved for medical personnel, who are trained in how to use and discard them properly.

An order of 5 million masks placed by Belgium to make up for the shortage was expected to be delivered exclusively to hospitals and health workers, but on Sunday news that the provider in Turkey was under fraud investigation poured cold water on the delivery, piling pressure on authorities to find another alternative.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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