DOH appeals: 'Wag makiagaw,' leave N95 mask supply for health workers

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 31 2020 03:35 PM | Updated as of Jan 31 2020 05:16 PM

People line up to purchase face masks in Bambang, Manila on January 30, 2020. In a press conference, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III confirmed the first case of the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), a 38-year-old Chinese patient from Wuhan, China, who arrived in Manila via Hong Kong on January 21, and is now in an undisclosed government hospital. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) - The Department of Health (DOH) on Friday called on the public to stop hoarding face masks even after a confirmed case of the new coronavirus in the country, as it emphasized that a shortage of supply will affect health workers and other people who need it most. 

“We ask the public to be very, very judicious in the use of these materials,” Health Undersecretary Eric Domingo said.

“The N95 mask, we want to reserve this for the health workers who are actually handling cases either PUIs [persons under investigation] or confirmed positive cases. We ask everybody huwag nang makiagaw sa supplies d'yan dahil ang nangangailangan talaga 'yong mga nangangalaga," the health department spokesman added. 

(They really need it. We ask everybody to not get supplies that health workers need more.)

Domingo said they are already working with suppliers to deliver much needed supplies to hospitals.

Malacañang, meanwhile, warned hoarders and profiteers of police action as it emphasized that taking advantage of fear of the virus is illegal.

“They should not be adding prices to the regular price… That should be raided by the PNP (Philippine National Police) if they are hoarding. That’s unlawful,” Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in a phone interview.

Panelo added that face mask manufacturers should produce more to meet the demand.

Demand for N95 masks spiked after the eruption and heavy ashfall of Taal Volcano. Recently, even surgical masks have become scarce as more Filipinos sought to protect themselves against the novel coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China. 

DOH added it was already coordinating with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to set a price cap for face masks.

More people started wearing face masks in public as the DOH confirmed on Thursday the first case of 2019-nCoV ARD in the Philippines — a 38-year-old female tourist from China.

But Domingo reminded the public that wearing face masks was not necessary for those who are healthy. 

“The surgical masks can be used by the public in certain occasions. Not everybody needs to wear a mask every time. Unless of course you feel you are high risk for illness,” he said.

Domingo said people can use it if they are in a very congested area and are exposed to sick people. 

“It is also useful if you are the one with an illness,” he added. At the same time, he reminded the public that a face mask will be useless if they don’t practice proper hand washing and other hygienic practices.

As of Friday, there are 31 “patients under investigation” or those who traveled to Wuhan, China, where the disease was first detected and showed symptoms of the new coronavirus.

- With a report from Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News