WHO warns of mask shortages as cases of viruses rise globally

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Countries scrambled to secure their mask supply as panic buying, hoarding and robbery spread over fears of the deadly coronavirus outbreak on Wednesday, with global health officials warning that protective gear stocks were rapidly dwindling.

The disease that first emerged in China occurs almost daily in new countries, with Iran, Italy and South Korea facing increasing numbers.

Italy’s death toll increased to 79 on Tuesday, infecting more than 2,500 people. A community of Italian tourists in India has been put in quarantine, with 17 positive tests for the virus.

One bright spot was the obvious progress China has made in slowing down the outbreak, with official figures on Wednesday showing new cases dropping for a third straight day.

More than 90,000 people were infected, and around 3,200 died worldwide, with Iraq announcing its first death from the disease on Wednesday, while hundreds have died in neighboring Iran so far.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the death rate is around 3.4 per cent, much higher than seasonal flu at less than one per cent.

The vast majority of cases and deaths were in China, where tens of millions of people were put under quarantine, but diseases are now growing faster abroad, causing countries to avoid large gatherings and cancel a slew of occurrences.

The death toll in the U.S. soared to nine, many affiliated with a nursing home near Seattle, while the overall number of infections shot past 100.

The WHO voiced concern that helmets, goggles and other protective equipment used by health workers had run out because of “increasing demand, hoarding and misuse.”

Tedros said the WHO had distributed more than half a million sets of personal protective equipment to 27 countries, but cautioned that “supplies are rapidly depleting.”

Shortages of equipment in China caused thousands of medical workers to become contaminated with a dozen deaths, causing the country to step up supplies by repurposing production lines at windshield, coat and smartphone factories to make masks.

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