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Rijksmuseum. Photo: John Lewis Marshall. Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum.

Conservators at Major Dutch Museums Donate Face Masks to Medical Workers

As the coronavirus outbreak worsens across the globe and the supply of protective equipment dwindles, the conservators at the Stedelijk Museum, the Rijksmuseum, and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam—which are temporarily closed—are donating their stock of face masks and surgical gloves to medical workers and hospitals. The charitable act was spurred by a tweet posted by Erma Hermens, the Rijksmuseum’s technical art historian, calling for museums and conservation trade organizations to do what they can to aid the effort to contain the virus.

“I did not expect for it to take off so much, but the reaction has been fantastic, and so many more museums are now looking into it,” Hermens told Artnet News. Since conservators usually have to handle hazardous substances and work on artworks that could be damaged from toxic molds and fungi, many use N95 masks and disposable paper gowns, goggles, and gloves of the same grade as the protective gear used by medical professionals.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the countries need to do more to discourage the panic buying, hoarding, and misuse of protective equipment, which health care workers rely on to protect themselves while treating infected patients and to prevent the spread of the virus. The organization has already shipped nearly half a million sets of protective gear to forty-seven countries, but it says that its inventory is depleting.

“Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement on March 3. “We can’t stop Covid-19 without protecting health workers first.” Despite the plea, several countries, including Germany, Russia, and South Korea, have all placed export bans on masks and other products.

As of Thursday, March 19, the Netherlands, which has banned gatherings of more than one hundred people, had 409 new cases, bringing the total number of infected people in the country to 2,460. It also reported eighteen deaths. The number of cases globally has risen to 218,000.

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