Why hoarding medical supplies is bad for everyone, including you
Face masks, alcohol, and even bottled water were just some of the first store items to go while lockdown fears mount in the Philippines during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The STAR/Edd Gumban

Why hoarding medical supplies is bad for everyone, including you

Ratziel San Juan (Philstar.com) - March 12, 2020 - 7:17pm

MANILA, Philippines — If you've been to any grocery or drug store lately, you might have noticed that shelves have been totally or nearly emptied of medical and sometimes even household supplies as Filipinos stock up in anticipation of the worst-case scenario during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Face masks, alcohol, and even bottled water are just some of the first store items to go while lockdown fears mount.

RELATED: DOH: Call to lock down capital over COVID-19 cases premature

Supermarkets and other retail businesses have since adjusted to skyrocketing demand and diminishing supplies by regulating the number of goods that individual consumers can buy.

This is in line with the Department of Trade and Industry’s order limiting the sale of alcohol and other disinfectants to only two bottles per customer.

However, online users pointed out that opportunistic online traders have already obtained bulk amounts of sought-after products like face masks and alcohol which they sell tragically beyond the suggested retail price.

The DTI has threatened to file criminal charges against those found hoarding or overpricing medical products and devices, citing the Consumer Act of the Philippines (Republic Act 7394).

Citizens have been encouraged to report the hoarding, profiteering, and any other form of price manipulation of goods like alcohol, face masks, and medicine through the One-DTI (1-384) Hotline or by sending an email to ConsumerCare@dti.gov.ph.

Malacañang similarly urged the public to avoid panic buying in order to prevent shortages of essential items.

“The Palace appeals to the people to buy only what they need...Our officials from the DTI gave assurances that we have ample stock of essential items,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on Wednesday.

RELATED: DTI: Enough supply of essential items

The scarcity of medical supplies resulting from hoarding and panic buying is now leaving many Filipinos shorthanded, but not just other civilians.

Who is left empty-handed?

Health workers worldwide agree that hoarding of face masks and other medical supplies ultimately does more harm than good.

As early as February, the local Research Institute for Tropical Medicine said that lacking "community transmission" of the virus which causes COVID-19 in the Philippines, the agency does not recommend the use of face masks for those who don't have respiratory symptoms like cough and breathing difficulty.

Community transmission is defined by WHO as "evidenced by the inability to relate confirmed cases through chains of transmission for a large number of cases, or by increasing positive tests through sentinel samples."

RELATED: How the Department of Health processes potential COVID-19 cases

“We should reserve the face masks to those who need them. There is already a shortage of this valuable commodity, and we should give them to those who need them most: the health workers,” RITM Director Celia Carlos said at a press briefing in Malacañang.

This is a concern echoed by health workers in other parts of the world, with COVID-19 now recorded in at least 114 countries as of writing.

US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said if much-needed masks continue to deplete due to panic buying, communities would be endangered regardless.

"Seriously people - STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

RELATED: Public urged not to hoard face masks needed by frontline health workers battling nCoV

Frontline health care workers including doctors and nurses around the globe have been affected by shortages in the global supply of personal protective equipment — attributed to rising demand, panic buying, hoarding, and misuse.

"We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting our health workers," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier this month.

"Shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other frontline healthcare workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for COVID-19 patients, due to limited access to supplies such as gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns, and aprons.”

The aftermath of shortages is further felt in staggering price hikes that keep medical supplies out of reach, all while supplies won’t be replenished for several months at least.

“Prices of surgical masks have increased six-fold, N95 respirators have more than tripled, and gowns cost twice as much. Supplies can take months to deliver, market manipulation is widespread, and stocks are often sold to the highest bidder,” the health official said.

WHO said that industry and governments need to ramp up the manufacturing of personal protective equipment by 40% in order to meet the global demand.

RELATED: WHO: 6-month backlog in face mask stocks

Coping with COVID-19

Meanwhile, health authorities maintained that the best protection against COVID-19 is to avoid exposure through practical measures like cleaning hands often, avoiding close contact, staying home if sick except to seek medical care, covering coughs and sneezes, and cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.

RELATED: Tips to protect yourself and to fight the spread of COVID-19

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention explained what circumstances would necessitate wearing a facemask.

"If you are sick: You should wear a facemask when you are around other people (e.g., sharing a room or vehicle) and before you enter a healthcare provider’s office. If you are not able to wear a facemask (for example, because it causes trouble breathing), then you should do your best to cover your coughs and sneezes, and people who are caring for you should wear a facemask if they enter your room."

"If you are NOT sick: You do not need to wear a facemask unless you are caring for someone who is sick (and they are not able to wear a facemask). Facemasks may be in short supply and they should be saved for caregivers."

WHO also said that masks are only effective “when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.”

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