India's strategy in dealing with the coronavirus scare so far seems to have worked well as has been its swift move to bring back stranded Indian students from Wuhan in China. However, a shortage of N95 masks seems to be emerging in India, as some pharmacy chains report. Health experts, referring to the three cases so far in Kerala, point out that there are reasons for India to stay cautious but not panic.
According to an official of MedPlus, a leading Indian pharmacy chain with 1,800 outlets across seven states, "Currently, we are facing shortages for N95 masks from across regions as people are coming for bulk requirements - ranging from few hundred thousand to up to a lakh."
Mostly, these are demands from corporates. He says, these masks are not usually stocked in great numbers because there is no huge requirement on a regular basis for N95 masks, which are priced anywhere between Rs 100 and Rs 200 per piece as against the more commonly used three layered masks that costs less than Rs 5 per piece. The N95, is usually sought only in times of an epidemic.
Dilip Jose, managing director and CEO, Manipal Hospitals, pointing to the three cases in Kerala says, we should not be unduly alarmed. The focus, he feels, should be around preventing transmission and people being careful. He feels, the move by the Indian government to control access into India and screening people at airports, is helping. While caution is important, not everybody needs an N95 mask. As a hospital, he says, "we are prepared though so far we have no patients with coronavirus," he says. He adds that "we have an isolation ward ready in our hospital in Delhi and Bengaluru. Also, we are stocked up and prepared with masks and other materials required. Mock drills have also been performed to see how such patients are to be handled and treated. These are being done so as to be abundantly cautious," he says.
Speaking to Business Today on the severity of the situation, Dr V Ramasubramanian, senior consultant, infectious diseases at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai, says, "This is like H1N1 except that it has a little higher mortality rate. If it is 0.02 to 0.04 per cent for H1N1, it is about 2.5 to 3 per cent in coronavirus. This is based on the number of cases identified and the deaths so far."
As for masks, he says, there is no point in everybody wearing a mask. The focus should be on being aware of how this infection spreads, avoiding travel to China and parts of Far East, avoiding crowded places and following basic hygiene like washing hands and not touching the face, following cough etiquette. Masks, he says, are to be worn only by those suspected to have an infection and by healthcare workers and by those who are travelling or in close proximity of strangers whose health status one does not know. N95, he explains, filters or blocks almost 95 per cent of particles that are less than 0.3 microns.