Business Insider Edition

South Africans are spending nearly R30,000 on full hazmat suits for fear of the coronavirus

James de Villiers , Business Insider SA
 Mar 09, 2020, 12:31 PM
  • South African retailers of hazmat suits say they're going for nearly R30,000 each as the novel coronavirus – and fear of Covid-19 – continues to spread.
  • Most of the buyers appear to be investing in gear they think they'll be able to sell for big markups with demand from countries such as Italy and China.
  • An infection-control expert says hazmat suits are unnecessary for both the treatment and prevention of the virus. 
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South Africans are spending nearly R30,000 to buy full hazmat suits – even though they're probably not much use during an outbreak of the novel coronavirus behind Covid-19.

Such suits are completely unnecessary for the treatment and prevention of the virus, an infectious-disease expert says. But local buyers appear to be investing in what they believe will be an in-demand commodity.

Over 100,000 people have been diagnosed with coronavirus, formally known as SARS-CoV-2, since it was declared a public health emergency of international concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in January.

Also read: Covid-19 update: Chaos on global markets, and a Sandton school closed

Drager, a supplier of medical and safety technology in South Africa, said it has seen demand for hazmat suits increase exponentially since January due to virus fears.

Hazmat suits are impermeable whole-body garments worn as protection against hazardous materials such as acids and radiation. 

Its entry levels suit, the Protec Plus, sells for R400, but most buyers are paying close to R30,000 for the more sophisticated CPS 7900 suit, Drager said.

Spilltech, which sells hazmat suits for industrial cleaning use, said all of its hazmat suits were returned to their manufacturers in China after the Covid-19 outbreak there. 

“It is very difficult to find hazmat suits locally as up to 95% of the suits are manufactured in China,” Spilltech told Business Insider South Africa. 

“The suits are being sold... for up to 100 times their original price as third party sellers buy them to supply them at a massive mark-up in overseas markets such as Italy and China,” the company said. 

Shaheen Mehtar, professor of infection control at Stellenbosch University, said hazmat suits are completely unnecessary for dealing with Covid-19, and human skin offers enough defence from the virus. 

The novel coronavirus is spread via droplets from the respiratory tract, she said.

“These secretions or droplets containing the virus have to be inhaled to cause disease,” Mehtar told Business Insider South Africa

This can occur through being in close proximity to an infected individual, less than two metres, or touching surfaces contaminated with the virus and then touching your eyes or mouth. 

If your eyes and mouth are protected, the rest of a full-body hazmat suit makes little difference.

Health professionals, Mehtar said, are advised to wear N95 respirators and water-resistant gowns when performing procedures such as intubation and open suctioning on a patient.

“There is no justification for hazmat suits. These are expensive, cumbersome and totally unnecessary,” Mehtar said.

More on office hygiene - here.

More on hand hygiene - here.  

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