Science and Technology dept. to produce face masks reusable for up to 50 times

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 18)— Half a million reusable face masks will soon be rolled out in the market as the country races against time to contain the coronavirus disease or COVID-19.

The Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) under the Department of Science and Technology— with the local government unit of Taytay, Rizal and other private stakeholders— will produce face masks that can be recycled for up to 50 times, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato de la Peña said in a statement Tuesday.

De La Peña said manufacturers will be using a PTRI textile-coating technology for treatment and finishing of the product. The mask will utilize local fiber textiles, donated by clothing manufacturing company Power Fashion, Inc.

De la Peña said the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology will also spare unused masks from its Taal Volcano eruption preparations.

The country is under a state of calamity amid the rapid spike in COVID-19 cases, which topped 200 as of Wednesday, including 17 deaths.

President Rodrigo Duterte has also restricted the movement of people in the entire island group of Luzon because of rising COVID cases. The "enhanced" community quarantine order prompted some residents to resort to panic buying— particularly of health products like face mask and alcohol.

READ: Health workers, frontliners appeal for masks and alcohol donations in fight vs. COVID-19

26,000 test kits on the way

The Science and Technology department assured the public of other services to help contain COVID-19.

De La Peña said scientists from the University of the Philippines National Institutes of Health, the Philippine Genome Center, and The Manila HealthTek Inc. are expected to produce diagnostic rapid kits good for at least 26,000 tests.

Studies on the possible anti-coronavirus properties of local virgin coconut oil are also underway, he added. Local researchers are also looking into the development of a thermal camera that can be attached to smartphones and will be used as a temperature scanner.

A number of large-scale companies and international organizations have already pitched in donations for test kits, as well as other protective equipment for health workers and front liners. Previously, the only COVID-19 test kits available in the country were the ones at the Research Institute of Tropical Medicine donated by the World Health Organization.

COVID-19, now considered by the WHO as a pandemic, has infected over 197,000 individuals in 154 different countries including China, where the outbreak began.

The disease is spread through small droplets from the nose or mouth when people infected with the virus cough or sneeze.

To prevent infection, authorities are urging people to practice regular hand washing, cover their mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, and avoid close contact with those who show respiratory symptoms.