By Tina Bellon
(Reuters) – Uber Technologies Inc <UBER.N> on Thursday said it plans to ship millions of face masks to its active drivers and food delivery people around the world to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The ride-hailing company’s vice president of safety and insurance, Gus Fuldner, in a company blog post also said Uber plans to ship nearly half a million face masks to U.S. drivers located in the cities hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
The initial face mask order will come from a Chinese company that typically manufactures electronics and now produces ear-loop masks. But Uber will be sourcing face masks from all over the world as a long-term commitment, an Uber spokesman said.
Uber said it had shipped its first order of masks to drivers in New York City, the U.S. city with the highest number of infections of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus.
“We’ve ordered tens of millions more masks and expect them to arrive in other cities and regions around the world in the coming weeks,” the company’s blog post said, adding that supplies were limited with healthcare needs taking a priority.
Ride-hailing demand has grinded to a halt in most U.S. cities, with a majority of Americans now under some form of lockdown. But Uber said it has seen a significant increase in restaurant food deliveries during the pandemic.
Uber on Thursday said it was sourcing the masks from outside the traditional supply chain and was donating N95 medical-grade masks stored in offices to local hospitals.
The U.S. government has recommended Americans wear cloth face coverings on a voluntary basis to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
COVID-19 has infected 1.4 million people and killed 85,000 worldwide, according to diplomats and experts. U.S. deaths topped 15,700 on Thursday, according to a Reuters tally.
Uber earlier this month said it would begin shipping disinfecting car spray at no cost to its drivers in the United States.
(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; Editing by Paul Simao)