If perfume companies can make hand gel, clothing firms can do protective gear for medics


A US Centers for Disease Control computer rendering of Covid-19, the strand of coronavirus that’s currently wreaking economic havoc around the world

It was a coincidence that I heard Italian doctor Fabiano Di Marco talking about the deadly effects of the coronavirus on the medical community in Bergamo town, near Milan, the very day a worried London father described how his son and daughter-in-law – specialist doctors – had been deployed to deal with Covid-19 patients without much protective gear.

Dr Marco, a professor at the University of Milan and head of the respiratory unit of the Hospital Papa Giovanni XXIII in Bergamo, a town badly affected by Covid-19, was speaking to Michael Barbaro on the March 17 edition of The New York Times’ podcast ‘The Daily’.

The doctor said that 426 nurses at his hospital were home sick, three weeks into the northern Italian town’s battle to save coronavirus-affected people. The nurses, he said, had either been sickened by the coronavirus after coming into contact with affected patients, or were quarantined for fear they might have contracted the disease. And three days ago, a senior doctor at the hospital – Dr Marco’s boss no less, and the man who had been organising the hospital’s emergency response – fell sick with low-grade coronavirus pneumonia.

The problem, Dr Marco said, was that the medical community in Bergamo did not have enough protective gear – disposable shoe covers, gloves, masks and other equipment.

Soon after that, I heard about the London father’s anxiety about his son and daughter-in-law. They had apparently been despatched to care for coronavirus patients in the British capital without anything other than a paper mask and a pair of gloves.

And then, The Washington Post reported that “dozens of health-care workers have fallen ill with covid-19, and more are quarantined after exposure to the virus, an expected but worrisome development as the US health system girds for an anticipated surge in infections”.

It sounded quite extraordinary, almost as if society is sending health professionals to take their chances – and die if they must, or live if they can.

We should be asking ourselves some crucial questions:

  • What’s the logic in exposing health professionals to possibly deadly disease without adequate protective gear? If they sicken and/or die, there’s little chance for the rest of us.
  • Shouldn’t governments be directing clothing, plastics and rubber companies and suchlike to manufacture protective gear for all essential workers?
  • There is precedent. On March 15, LVMH announced that that it is converting three of its perfume manufacturing facilities where it normally makes fragrances for its Christian DiorGivenchy and Guerlain brands, to make hand sanitizer instead. The product will be given at no charge to the French authorities.

The issue of protective gear for medical staff is personal to me. My sister, a cancer surgeon, may be drafted in (just like the worried London father’s son and daughter-in-law) to help with Britain’s battle with coronavirus.

But you don’t have to be related to an essential employee to worry about the implications of sending them to do battle sans protective gear.