Coronavirus masks shortage: Overuse, improper disposal of masks; a crisis in making

Mayank Kumar

As the number of Coronavirus cases has risen in India, the level of panic among the people has also notched up. The panic buying of goods, especially equipment to protect themselves such as masks and sanitisers have been reported across the country. Almost every other person who is seen outside their homes are wearing a mask. This sudden spike in consumption has made the medical professional feel the pinch of a shortage of essential medical equipment such as masks. One common but underreported crisis that is beginning to take shape in Coronavirus-hit areas is the disposal of the used masks.

In the Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad, areas that are now considered as hotspots for the Coronavirus pandemic in Maharashtra, mask users are dumping their masks in their household garbage. The masks that are being disposed of openly in these areas are made for single-use only. Unaware of the consequences and the threat they are exposed to, waste pickers are picking those up like other wastes. This has the potential to create grave consequences for the region as the waste pickers don't have the luxury of spaced-out homes and in case any of them gets infected, the chances of community transmission will increase manifold.

The administration in these areas has not been able to set up a concrete mechanism for disposal of the masks being used by more than 2,000 people who are under self-quarantine following their trip from Coronavirus-hit countries. Some of the quarantined suspects are burning their used masks but others have opted for no other option than to dispose off their used mask mixed with household garbage.

The total number of Covid-19 cases in Maharashtra has jumped to 89, following the reporting of 15 more cases since the evening on March 22. 14 of them were reported from Mumbai while another case was reported from Pune. Maharashtra CM Uddhav Thackeray has said that he has no other option but to call almost a total lockdown across the state until March 31.