HONG KONG — Volunteers from a Hong Kong theater group are turning their backstage skills to helping fight the new virus, sewing reusable protective face masks for those who can’t access or afford them.

Jo Ngai, a drama lover and founder of the group Nonsensemakers, along with her friend Jessie Han have turned a theater rehearsal room into a temporary handmade mask factory.

With the help of friends they met online, they have been working to produce 400 fabric masks that can be reused by throwing away the inner lining. It’s not clear how effective they will be in combating the virus, but Ngai and Han think their triple-layered creations will be an effective defense.

As infections have grown in Hong Kong, thousands have lined up to buy masks. The supply is limited, and when available, the prices are often astronomical.

“I noticed that the price of surgical masks has surged threefold within three days. So we think that it is nearly impossible for ordinary citizens, especially the poor, to buy surgical masks. But face masks are essential with the outbreak of the coronavirus,” Han said.

Regardless of their origin, fabric masks are a good option amid the shortage of industrially produced surgical masks, according to Dr. Joseph Tsang, a Hong Kong specialist in infectious diseases.

“It is always better to wear something rather than nothing. Regarding the design of this fabric mask, putting a surgical mask into the middle of the mask can help prevent the virus and the mask’s moist absorbing layer can extend the life span and effectiveness of the surgical mask,” Tsang said.