If you’re worried about the coronavirus and are having trouble getting hold of medical masks, these numbers will explain why: China is the world’s largest producer of them, with a reported daily capacity of 20 million pieces, but by the estimate of its manufacturers domestic demand alone is around 50 to 60 million per day, Time says.
No wonder you can’t find medical masks at your local pharmacy.
The scale of the epidemic in China—where the virus originated and where almost 78,500 people are now infected—and the continued spread of the coronavirus globally has driven shortages across the globe.
Retailers on multiple continents are running out of masks, and prices for a box of masks on online retailers like Amazon have surged to hundreds of dollars. On Monday, aerial footage captured a line hundreds of people long in the city of Daegu, South Korea, where an outbreak is growing, waiting to buy them. On the same day, an industrial equipment store in Italy, where more than 370 people are confirmed to be infected, sold more than 500 masks—of the kind used in factories and on building sites—in the first 30 minutes it was open.
Unable to produce enough of the protective gear to meet its own demand, Beijing has also been sourcing medical masks from overseas. Indonesian officials said at the beginning of February that China had placed “large orders” for Indonesian-made masks, equating to as much as three months of production, and Vietnam has exported huge quantities of masks to China. There are reports that Chinese traders have started sourcing supplies in markets as far away as Kenya and Tanzania.
Meanwhile, pharmacies from Armenia to Germany to Canada to Italy and the U.K. are all low on medical mask supplies, according to posts circulating on social media.