Women carry water bottles during a lockdown against the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Milan, Italy March 22, 2020 (Photo: Reuters)
Egypt has sent 1.5 million medical masks to Italy to help it deal with its growing coronavirus crisis, Italy's foreign ministry said, as the world's worst-hit country is grappling with a shortage of medical protective gear.
"The first million and a half masks that had been stuck in Egypt landed in Italy," Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on his official Facebook page on Saturday.
Local media said the EgypAir plane carrying the shipment landed in Malpensa Airport in the northern city of Milan.
The delivery from Egypt was followed by another shipment of 40,000 masks from India, he added.
An EgyptAir spokesperson contacted by Ahram Online provided no further details.
Italy is the world's hardest-hit country by the coronavirus pandemic. To date, the European country has registered more than 53,500 cases and over 4,800 deaths, overtaking China--the epicenter of the outbreak--as the country worst hit by the highly contagious virus.
“Doctors, nurses and social health workers are currently suffering from the lack of protective equipment, especially masks.” Di Maio said, adding that law enforcement and rescue workers, military personnel and factory workers are also affected by the shortage.
"The foreign ministry, with its women and men in the diplomatic corps, together with our intelligence agencies, will continue to search the world over for the material we need," the minister said. "Every day the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and my closest collaborators call dozens of our ambassadors around the world to see if there is any new help."
Another four million face masks and 100 lung ventilators were due to be sent from China aboard two Italian military aircrafts on Sunday and Monday, Di Maio said.
Other countries like Russia, Brazil, Ukraine and Turkey have also assisted Italy with masks and other medical supplies.
In Egypt, the prices of medical masks have soared, with some types no longer found in the market amid a rise in coronavirus cases -- now at 294.
Earlier this month, the Egyptian trade ministry banned the export of surgical masks and disinfectants as well as medical alcohol for three months in a bid to avert a potential shortage in local market.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy person only needs to wear a mask if they are taking care of a person with suspected coronavirus infection.
Masks are effective only when used with frequent hand-cleaning and a knowledge of how to use them and dispose of them properly, WHO says on its official website.