WHO warns of global shortage of medical equipment to fight coronavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday warned of a global shortage and price gouging for protective equipment to fight the fast-spreading coronavirus and asked companies and governments to increase production by 40 percent as the death toll from the respiratory illness mounted.

The virus continued to spread in South Korea, Japan, Europe, Iran and the United States, and several countries reported their first confirmed cases, taking the total to some 80 countries hit with the flu-like illness that can lead to pneumonia.

Health officials have said the death rate of COVID-19 is 2 to 4 percent depending on the country and may be much lower if there are thousands of unreported mild cases of the disease.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, prices of surgical masks have increased sixfold, N95 respirators have tripled in cost and protective gowns cost twice as much, the WHO said. It estimates healthcare workers each month will need 89 million masks, 76 million gloves and 1.6 million pairs of goggles.

Coronavirus outside China: Panic-buying in severely hit countries

In Iran, doctors and nurses lack supplies and 77 people have died, one of the highest numbers outside China. In South Korea's Daegu, Italy's Lombardy, Japan's Hokkaidō and Tokyo, and other severely hit cities around the world, residents have flocked to pharmacies and supermarkets, panic-buying face masks, antibacterial hand wipes and hand sanitizer.

Consumers around the world have reported empty supermarket shelves as people stock up on toilet paper, instant food and cleaning items in the midst of coronavirus fears. Social media was flooded with images of empty store shelves and people buying large quantities of paper goods after some countries raised their alert level, responding to the heightened virus risk.

The number of COVID-19 cases outside China has surpassed those inside the country. There have been 10,566 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 72 countries outside China, with 166 deaths, statistics from the WHO showed Wednesday. Eight new states (Andorra, Jordan, Latvia, Morocco, Portugal, Saudi Arabia, Senegal and Tunisia) reported cases.