France ordered the nationwide requisition of all masks on Tuesday as the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) said hoarding, misuse and shortages of protective equipment was leaving doctors and nurses “dangerously ill-equipped” to look after COVID-19 patients.
President Emmanuel Macron announced the French state was taking over "all stocks and the production of protective masks" to distribute them to coronavirus sufferers and their caregivers.
The extent of the problem was illustrated by the theft of about 2,000 surgical masks from the Conception hospital in Marseille, health officials said.
The boxes were stolen from the central block of the public hospital, which is only accessible by health personnel and patients, the officials told AFP.
The world needs an estimated 89 million medical masks, 67m examination gloves and 1.6m goggles, the WHO said.
It has already shipped half a million sets of personal protective equipment to dozens of countries but supplies are rapidly depleting.
'Six-fold rise in the price of surgical masks'
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, called on governments to incentivise suppliers to ramp up production.
“We are concerned countries’ abilities to respond are being compromised by the serial and increasing disruption to the global supply of personal protective equipment caused by rising demand, hoarding and misuse,” he told reporters in Geneva.
“Shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other frontline healthcare workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for COVID-19 due to limited access to supplies such as gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns and aprons.
He added: “We cannot stop COVID-19 without protecting our health workers. Prices of surgical masks have increased six-fold and 95 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.”
He said it was “a question for solidarity” that could not be solved by the WHO alone, and needed the cooperation of manufacturers and governments.
“It requires all of us working together in ensuring countries can protect people who protect the rest of us,” he said.