Doctors are raiding hardware stores and dentists say they may be forced to close, as coronavirus panic has dried up surgical mask supplies around Australia.
Surgical masks are used to protect both patients and healthcare workers. Dentists use a new mask for each patient, while doctors may use multiple masks for a single patient.
“We’re doing everything we can to ensure dentists can see patients but without a guaranteed supply of masks, dentists cannot adhere to our strict Australian infection control standards,” said Eithne Irving, deputy CEO of the Australian Dental Association, in a statement.
“It means dental practices will be forced to close.”
The association estimates that dentists use around 9.5 million masks per month, and says that current supplies will last less than a month.
Meanwhile, Melbourne GP Vyom Sharma told the ABC that he and his colleagues were forced to turn to Bunnings after they were unable to order enough surgical masks through usual means.
“I called up Bunnings yesterday and they said they had 20 left, but that was in the morning — when I called them in the afternoon they said they couldn’t guarantee that,” he said.
“I know other GPs who are using other hardware stores as well, and someone said they had got a face shield for gardening that had P2 filters in it — so we’ve had to get creative.”
President of the Royal Australian College of GPs Harry Nespolon also confirmed to the ABC that he knew of cases where doctors resorted to hardware stores for masks.
In late January, the government authorised the release of a million surgical masks from the national medical stockpile, however this has not been enough to prevent current shortages.
The Australian Department of Health has advised that most people “do not need to wear a surgical mask as there is little evidence supporting the widespread use of surgical masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public.”
The World Health Organisations also states that healthy people should only wear a facemask if they are caring for someone with a suspected coronavirus infection.