Face masks are selling out but do they really work?

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The FINANCIAL — The prices of masks are now rocketing as shops sell out but do they really work? China confiscated 31 million counterfeit face masks during the coronavirus outbreak. Amazon is warning sellers if they’re charging too much for face masks. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t recommend that people who are well wear a facemasks. But experts are still split over whether face masks work at all.

The novel coronavirus has gone global. What had begun as an outbreak in China is now threatening to become a worldwide pandemic, having reached every continent except Antarctica. This rise in public fear has seen shops in Italy and other hard-hit regions sell out of medical supplies like face masks — an echo of the same panic buying that had gripped Asia just earlier this month, CNN wrote.

As concerned citizens scramble to find ways to protect themselves from the spreading coronavirus, face masks have been selling out fast. In Taiwan, 80 companies that produce disposable face masks haven’t been able to keep up with demand. Shoppers keep buying out the masks as soon as they hit the stores; and some say the surge in demand may actually persist after the caseloads of COVID-19 start abating. Vendors in Taiwan normally produce 1.9 million masks a day, and from February 9 they began pushing out 3.2 million to 40 million, says Yang Bo-ken, deputy director of the government’s Industrial Development Bureau. They’re all meant for Taiwan’s 23 million people, as the government temporarily banned exports last month to ensure steady supplies on the island, Forbes reported.

Surgical masks were first introduced into hospitals in the late 1700s but they did not make the transition into public use until the Spanish flu outbreak in 1919. The masks are designed for use in a clinical setting, such as a hospital ward or theatre, where they are primarily meant for preventing visible sprays or splashes of fluid. Dr Jake Dunning, head of emerging infections and zoonoses [infectious disease spread between humans and animals] at Public Health England, told The Independent that there is “very little evidence of a widespread benefit” in members of the public wearing masks. Dr Dunning explains there are a number of reasons why they aren’t effective. “Face masks must be worn correctly, changed frequently, removed properly, disposed of safely and used in combination with good universal hygiene behaviour in order for them to be effective.” And most of the paper options being worn do not have a respirator to filter out infectious air particles, according to Independent.

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China confiscated 31 million counterfeit face masks during the coronavirus outbreak. Even though other countries have sent face mask donations to China, it still faces shortages as citizens continue to clean out stock in stores and online. The rampant demand has given illegitimate manufacturers an opportunity to wedge into the market to produce and sell counterfeit face masks. Top-selling face mask companies have warned consumers to be leery of these kinds of counterfeits and not to buy from illegitimate sellers. There have been nearly 688 cases of fake mask production and distribution in China, involving about 1,560 arrests. However, experts say face masks aren’t necessary or even very effective. Rather, hygiene practices like handwashing and keeping a distance from infected people work better. Even N95 respirators masks, designed to filter out air particles 0.3 microns in diameter, are not able to block coronavirus, which can be as small as 0.2 microns, Business Insider wrote.

Amazon is warning sellers if they’re charging too much for face masks and could be booted from the site, as demand for these products soars amid fears about the coronavirus. Citing an email, Wired reported that the e-commerce giant has been alerting sellers who don’t comply with its pricing policies, which have been in place since before the outbreak of the coronavirus. Some of these overpriced face masks have been deleted from the site. A box of 100 medical face masks was being sold for $15, almost four times the price from a few weeks ago, Wired reported, citing data from Amazon price tracker Keepa. Since the end of January, a box 20 3M particulate respirator masks nearly quadrupled, from $17 to $70, CNET reported.

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The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19. Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility), CDC wrote.

Coronavirus panic in Britain means face masks are selling out and online profiteers are ramping up the cost by up to £120 per pack – but experts are still split over whether they work at all. Yet recent testing by the Health and Safety Executive has found that any kind of protection is better than nothing. In Britain, there have been 15 confirmed coronavirus cases and the prices of masks are now rocketing as shops sell out, Daily Mail reported.

The Business Department and Public Health England recommended that the best way to reduce any risk of infection is good hygiene and avoiding direct or close contact (closer than 2 metres) with any potentially infected person. Guidance published by the Government says face masks are only recommended to be worn by ‘symptomatic individuals’ to reduce the risk of transmitting the killer infection to other people, according to Metro.

 Shares of airlines and travel companies around the world plunged Monday due to fears about the spread of the coronavirus. Read more.

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