Vending machines selling face masks appear on Warsaw streets

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    WARSAW. – Vending machines selling face masks, gloves and sanitizers appeared on the streets of Poland’s two biggest cities this week, as the country stepped up social distancing rules to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

    So far two vending machines have been installed in Warsaw and five in Krakow and there are plans to install several dozen or maybe even several hundred more in the next two weeks, according to the Polish Vending Association, which launched the initiative.

    From April 16, all Poles will be required to cover their mouth and nose in public spaces, health minister Lukasz Szumowski said on Thursday as the government extended lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus.

    The masks on sale in the vending machines are priced at 8.8 zlotys ($2.11) apiece.

    Poland has reported 5,742 cases of the coronavirus, and 175 deaths. On Thursday the government said businesses will remain locked down until April 19 and limits for schools, as well as rail and air transport, will be extended for another two weeks.

    Aleksander Wasik, head of the Polish Vending Association, which represents vending machine makers and distributors in Poland, said he wanted to make sure that his employees keep their jobs. He used his industry contacts to get the machines up and running to provide what is most needed during a pandemic: protective equipment.

    “What happened just now is a massive blow to everyone. Many (vending machine) operators became depressed because they were already seeing the possibility of bankruptcies,” he said.

    The initiative is applauded by the customers.

    “I think if it lasts any longer, this whole state of the epidemic, it would come in handy, I see a lot of people coming, there’s interest,” said Pawel Kasprzycki, 67, who bought a mask at one of the vending machine’s in Warsaw.

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