Direct Relief yesterday sent via FedEx emergency airlift a shipment of more than 200,000 surgical masks to hospitals in China’s Hubei Province to help protect medical workers against the fast-spreading coronavirus epidemic. Direct Relief’s shipment, sent from its strategic emergency stockpile, also includes isolation gowns, fluid-resistant coveralls, and exam gloves requested by two of the province’s largest hospitals.
Local officials in Hubei’s provincial capital, Wuhan, have called for donations of protective gear, as Hubei hospitals run short of supplies. Shortages of face masks are being reported all across Asia.
Taiwan has banned exports of surgical masks for one month and limited purchases to three masks per person. Shortages have been reported in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and store shelves have been emptied in parts of South Korea and Thailand. A top Chinese official on Jan. 26 warned that Hubei Province alone needs 100,000 protective suits a day to fight the spread of coronavirus, but that manufacturers in China can make only 30,000 suits per day.
Complicating matters, most of China’s factories were already in the midst of a 10-day shutdown for the Lunar New Year holiday. This week, the Chinese government extended the end of the holiday from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2, while Shanghai’s government extended the holiday through Feb. 9.
FedEx, which has long been a key supporter of Direct Relief, arranged immediate transportation and donated its transportation and logistics services to deliver the aid, which is scheduled to arrive in Wuhan on Thursday. Direct Relief is working through Hubei Charity Federation — one of two government-designated donation recipients, along with the Red Cross Society of Hubei — to convey the supplies to Wuhan Union Hospital and to Xiaogan Central Hospital in the city of Xiaogan, which requested the supplies.
This is the first time Direct Relief has been asked to provide aid to China since the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province. Direct Relief is working through the newly established protocols to ensure coordination and appropriateness of any imported goods to assist in the unfolding public health situation.
“Direct Relief is keenly sensitive to the need to respond fast and in close coordination with public health officials in circumstances such as the unfolding coronavirus situation,” said Direct Relief CEO Thomas Tighe. “We’re deeply thankful for FedEx enabling such a quick response to very specific requests from Chinese health officials who are managing a very large, complex situation.”