India needs at least 38 million masks and 6.2 million pieces of personal protective equipment as it confronts the spread of coronavirus, and has approached hundreds of companies to secure supplies quickly, according to a report by the country's investment agency seen by Reuters.
As cases of the illness have risen, so has demand for protective equipment and masks, as well as complaints from healthcare workers about shortages.
In a four-page internal document dated March 27, the Invest India agency detailed efforts to find companies that can supply critical supplies. Invest India said it had contacted 730 companies for ventilators, ICU monitors, protective equipment, masks and testing kits, of which 319 firms had responded so far.
India, with 873 recorded cases of coronavirus and 19 deaths, took strong steps this week to curb the spread of the illness, with authorities concerned the healthcare system could be overwhelmed if the disease becomes rampant in the country of 1.3 billion.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered everyone on Tuesday to stay at home for three weeks.
The quantity of masks available for supply from the companies was 9.1 million, the Invest India document said, adding that available supplies of personal protective equipment such as body coveralls stood at almost 800,000.
But Invest India estimated the country needed 38 million masks - 14 million needed by state governments and the rest by the federal government - and 6.2 million pieces of protective gear. It did not give any time frame for the demand.
The document said the data covered seven of India's 36 states and federally-controlled territories, meaning the total demand for such equipment required could be much higher.
Invest India, which works with companies, as well as federal and state governments, declined to comment. The health ministry did not respond to Reuters queries.
On Wednesday, federal health official Lav Agarwal told reporters the government was "trying its best" to ensure supplies of healthcare protective gear, but gave no numbers.
Invest India is also working with a private Indian company to import test kits from five companies in South Korea, the document said.
Some doctors have said they are concerned about shortages of healthcare equipment.
At the main facility for COVID-19 treatment in the eastern state of Bihar, doctors do not have proper protective gear and some are wary of entering the wards where five coronavirus patients are being treated, said Ravi R.K Raman, president of a doctor's association there.
"We are not running away from the crisis. It is our duty to help people. But we ask the government to give us adequate supplies of personal protective equipment," said Raman.