The Australian Red Cross says it needs 14,000 donors before Easter to help ward off a blood shortage, as thousands of people confine themselves to their homes to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Lifeblood chief medical officer Joanne Pink said people are "changing their schedules during the current period of uncertainty", but the need for blood is ongoing, and she urged those who can donate to do so.
"We are unable to stockpile blood donations, unlike toilet paper," she said on Tuesday. "The need for blood doesn't stop."
Donations to the Australian Red Cross have slowed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Credit:Domino Postiglione
Dr Pink said Lifeblood clinics had seen a reduction of donors with "around 800 cancellations per day" nationally – about 5-10 per cent more than usual for this time of year.
It follows a "phenomenal response" to Lifeblood's call for donors in January amid the bushfire crisis – but CEO Shelly Park said those who have donated this year must wait 12 weeks before they can do it again.
With coronavirus fears keeping people at home along with the start of cold and flu season, there are concerns donors will continue to drop heading towards Easter, putting pressure on supplies.
While donations are not used in the treatment of flu and coronavirus, Dr Pink said there is constant demand and the banks need about 29,000 donations of blood and plasma every week.
"Blood is always needed, particularly for patients with cancer, car accidents, and people having babies," she said. Donated blood has a shelf life of 42 days.
Moves to ramp up elective surgeries this week to get ahead of a predicted peak in coronavirus hospitalisations may also contribute to depleted stores. Ms Park said they had seen "a small increase in demand for red cells and platelets in recent days which is likely to be in response to the temporary fast-tracking of elective surgeries in some states."
However, that had been modelled for and demand is not a concern at present, she said. The main issue is the dwindling supply of donations.
Ms Park said donors concerned about coronavirus should be confident clinics are safe.
"We have robust processes in place to ensure the safety of the blood supply and our donors, and we don’t allow people who are unwell to donate blood," she said.
"Our donor centres are safe places to visit and we will take all necessary steps to ensure that stays the case. They are heavily regulated environments, with staff adhering to high standards to ensure safety protocols are in place."
She said Lifeblood is in talks with the government through the National Blood Authority to ensure it is exempt from any potential further isolation measures.
As a result of the pandemic, Lifeblood has had to introduce a number of new rules for donors including a 28-day ban on those returning from overseas.
That's to minimise the risk of transmission to other donors and staff, and there is "no evidence that coronavirus is transmitted by blood transfusion anywhere in the world," Dr Pink said.
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