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Coronavirus: India faces massive shortage of N95 masks, sanitisers

The demand for protective masks and sanitizers in India has gone up significantly and with rising demand, the price of masks has shot up multiple times.

March 05, 2020 / 06:26 PM IST

With reports of coronavirus cases being reported from many parts of India,  people are rushing to medical stores to get their hands on either N95 or a simple surgical face mask, and sanitizers but they have been hamstrung by their massive shortage.

Even e-commerce websites are running out of these two products.

"I visited 2-3 chemist stores asking for a hand sanitizer but failed to find one at the chemist stores. In fact, one pharmacy offered me a handwash instead of a sanitizer," said a Mumbai-based professional.

The demand for protective masks and sanitizers in India has gone up significantly and with rising demand, the price of masks has shot up multiple times.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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"In view of the current situation worldwide, we have witnessed 10 times & more of growth in demand for face masks, particulate respiratory masks, protective suits to curb the spread of Coronavirus," said Vivek Tiwari,  Founder, and CEO, Medikabazaar, an online aggregator for medical devices.

"In the last few weeks, we have received multiple queries from China, Japan, Singapore, and even India and other countries and we have increased our procurement of masks and other items many folds to meet the demand," he added.

The N95 too, which are available, are being sold at inflated prices in chemist shops and on e-commerce platforms.

On Amazon, a pack of 4 sanitizer bottles of 50 ml each is available for Rs 328 instead of Rs 246 while a N95 mask is being sold for Rs 1,000.

Most people Moneycontrol spoke to claimed that a surgical mask, which was available for Rs 10 at chemist shops and on e-commerce marketplaces, is being sold for Rs 40 or higher, and a N95 mask, which was earlier available for Rs 150, is being sold for Rs 500-1,000.

According to a report by CNBC-TV18, prices of face masks have shot up 300 percent. A box of face masks which earlier was available for Rs 1.50 is now getting sold at Rs 6.

The prices of masks are higher as India does not manufacture these masks but only assembles it. Also, the 3 ply material is mainly imported from China.

"The demand and prices for these two products (N95 masks and sanitizers) have shot up after the scare of Coronavirus outbreak within the country. There is a huge demand, especially for N95 masks, which are recommended by healthcare experts for preventing against viruses. In the last two to three days more than 300 people have come asking for N95 masks and sanitizer," owner of a well-known pharmacy chain said.

According to experts, although disposable face masks block large particles from entering your mouth, a more tight-fitting N95 respirator mask is far more effective at protecting from airborne illnesses.

N95 face mask filters at least 95 percent of airborne particles.

Shortage is largely due to supply disruptions in China coupled with large amount of buying from Middle East and China.

People in the country are furious and claim that the government must have a system wherein the prices and supply of essential products in a situation like the pandemic situation could be controlled.

According to reports, there are 28 confirmed cases of coronavirus in India so far.

The Indian government has said it is monitoring the situation and has taken precautions, including an increase in screenings.

Story so far

Coronavirus is a deadly respiratory which has killed more than 3,110 and so far 90,893 cases are reported globally, according to the information on the World Health Organisation.

Transmission of the virus takes place when someone who is infected comes in contact with another person. According to medical experts, coughing, sneezing or even shaking hands with an affected person can cause exposure.

The outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was first reported from Wuhan, China, on 31 December 2019.

In the past 24 hours, China reported 129 cases, the lowest number of cases since January 20.

Outside China, 1848 cases were reported in 48 countries. 80 percent of those cases are from just three countries: the Republic of Korea, the Islamic Republic of Iran and Italy.

12 new countries have reported their first cases, and there are now 21 countries with one case.

Himadri Buch
Himadri Buch
first published: Mar 4, 2020 02:34 pm