How demand for PPE shifted during the coronavirus crisis

PPE has proven essential in protecting from coronavirus. Find out how demand for PPE changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Coronavirus forced us all to adapt our lives quickly. From medical professionals to business owners and everyday citizens, new measures were required to protect our health and those around us in unprecedented times.

Many of the measures have been tied to PPE, providing the resources we need to mitigate the risk of COVID-19. As such, PPE has been a common topic of conversation over the last year and a half, with much press attention being placed on its provision.

Nurse wearing face mask and visor

Now that we have started to emerge in what many have billed ‘the new normal’, questions still linger regarding PPE’s role in our lives.

This guide explores how demand for protective equipment shifted through the pandemic and what might come next as we adapt to the next chapter.

The start of the pandemic

Although coronavirus was already present elsewhere globally, it wasn’t until March 2020 that the impact was truly realised in the UK. As early as January, Amazon reported a 400% surge in purchases for face masks as people began to sense the threat experienced across the globe.

In early March, the World Health Organisation launched a call for additional supply in the face of a global shortage of PPE in healthcare settings, including gloves, medical masks, respirators, goggles, face shields, gowns, and aprons. There was an increasing need for PPE in the UK, with medical professionals speaking out against a lack of equipment within the NHS.

Price hikes exacerbated the worldwide issues in PPE provision as demand soared and supply chain disruption as businesses struggled to overcome COVID-19 obstacles.

The demand for PPE didn’t just rise in the medical industry. People elsewhere acknowledged the need for preventative tools as they sought to keep themselves and their families safe. As a result, hand sanitiser sales increased 255% in March as more of the public realised the role that effective hand hygiene could play in line with expert guidance.

Summer 2020

By the summer months of 2020, there was a better handle on the amount of PPE being provided to health and social care sectors as the UK government pledged to spend £15 billion on acquiring equipment for the NHS. Controversy would later arise surrounding the awarding of contracts and whether an adequate supply was set up to give people the PPE they needed.

In this period, face masks became mandatory to wear in many indoor settings, including shops, schools and public transport. As such, more members of the public were purchasing disposable and reusable masks to comply with the new rules and protect others from the spread of coronavirus.

Person wearing mask while shopping in supermarket

In May, the government issued guidance to businesses that explained how to work safely against the pandemic backdrop. The use of PPE was emphasised in these guidelines, with particular focus on the use of masks and hand sanitiser as ways of protecting employees and customers while enabling companies to operate. This guidance still stands today, with employers required to source adequate PPE for their business, showing the demand for it even outside the health industry.

The second wave

By winter 2020 and early 2021, many countries worldwide were experiencing a second wave of coronavirus cases, including in the UK. In November, Europa Health called for a 40% increase in PPE supply to meet global demand as healthcare workers continued to fight COVID-19 and people sought to protect themselves.

Figures later released by the government found that by 6th November, 8.4 billion pieces of PPE had been delivered to the health and social care system. However, there were also requirements beyond the amount of PPE required.

On top of the volume needed, there was a demand for better quality equipment, with nurses calling for higher grade masks to protect them at work. This suggested that there was still room for improvement when it came to the strength of PPE, with many companies seeking innovative new products to support workers and consumers during the pandemic. We may see this trend continue, with cutting-edge solutions being launched to increase hygiene and safety in public and business spaces.

During this period, there was also increased attention on the environmental impact of disposable PPE. Items such as single-use face masks and gloves were littered across the world, leading to plastic pollution. Environmental bodies encouraged consumers to use reusable, washable masks where possible, which the government has backed for non-high-risk users. This also highlighted a growing market for sustainable versions of protective products to balance coronavirus risk with harm to our environment.

By March 2021, the Office of National Statistics had added hand sanitiser to the goods used to monitor the cost of living. This showed how PPE had become ingrained in our daily lives, with most ordinary citizens utilising hand sanitiser and face masks in their bid to reduce transmission of the virus.

What the future holds

Although restrictions have begun to ease in the UK, the risk has not entirely disappeared. Countries across the world are still experiencing new peaks in cases, and virus variants have proven a cause for concern. While this risk lingers, PPE will undoubtedly continue to be needed to mitigate the threat and keep people safe.

WHO's PPE stats for whole world
Credit: WHO

It is also likely that lessons have been learnt from the pandemic, and healthcare settings, in particular, will need to ensure they have the PPE they need ahead of time in case a new pandemic should emerge.

As we interact more, items like hand sanitiser could prove essential in preventing further outbreaks and limiting cases. There is no set guidance currently about the use of face masks after the planned end of restrictions on 21st June. There may still be specific settings where they are required, so we shouldn’t expect PPE to disappear from our lives just yet.

Similarly, as businesses look to welcome staff back into workplaces, PPE will be vital in compliance with COVID-secure guidelines and helping employees feel safe.

It is worth noting that, although the precautions we have been living with have been focused on addressing the threat of coronavirus, many of us have enjoyed a year without other viruses, such as common colds and flu. A lot of this can be attributed to increased hand hygiene and protective equipment. As such, the public may be more open to integrating PPE in their lifestyles post-coronavirus to protect themselves against a broader range of illnesses. This could see demand continue steadily, even after the pandemic is over.


It will come as no surprise that our use of PPE, including resources like hand sanitiser and face masks, has risen exponentially since early in 2020. While many people are now looking ahead to their ‘freedom’ as the pandemic hopefully comes to an end, the demand for PPE will not disappear.

Medical professionals will still need to fight coronavirus cases and prevent the spread in hospitals using PPE and other protocol. The public will still need to take a sensible approach when increasing their contact with others to stop the spread and reduce the threat of future lockdowns.

If you are seeking PPE solutions for your business, we can help. We provide a range of solutions, including premium hand sanitisers, to support you in enabling productivity while keeping your employees and customers safe.

Get in touch today to find out more.