BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany has banned the export of medical protection gear to avoid supply shortages of masks, gloves and suits as doctors and authorities race to contain the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, officials said on Wednesday.

The decision was taken by the government’s emergency task force on the coronavirus epidemic, with the export ban coming into force immediately, an economy ministry spokesman said.

The health ministry said the export ban applied to all sorts of medical protection gear including breathing masks, medical gloves and protective suits. “Exceptions are only possible under strict conditions,” the ministry added.

The federal government had also decided to buy medical protection gear in order to provide hospitals and doctors’ surgeries across the country with the necessary equipment.

“One thing is certain: The high point of the spread (of the virus) has not yet been reached,” Health Minister Jens Spahn told the Bundestag (lower house of parliament).

Germany has now reported 240 cases of the virus, which emerged in China late last year and is spreading around the world. It has killed nearly 3,200 people globally, though Germany has not reported a fatal case yet.

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Paul Carrel/Mark Heinrich)