‘Panic buying of masks’ pointless

People wear protective face masks
People wear protective face masks

While retailers have experienced shortages of masks and hand sanitisers sparked by fears over the deadly coronavirus outbreak, the National Health Laboratory Service’s boss has warned these are not effective against respiratory illnesses such as the Covid-19 strain.

Dr Susan Louw, a haematologist in charge of the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS), said using medical masks would not prevent someone from getting the virus.

“The masks prevent people from spreading a virus rather than protecting someone from a virus,” she said.

Rather, she said, hand washing was essential along with not touching your eyes, ears, mouth or nose outside your home.

“It is difficult to change your habits but this would decrease the spread of the virus.”

She said distancing yourself from someone showing flu-like symptoms would also help.

“Increase your personal space to about 1m.

“Be wary and cautious.

“I also caution people against panic buying.”

Long queues have formed at some pharmacies and panic buyers have stripped shelves of masks.

Troppers Pharmacy front shop assistant Chantal Esterhuizen said the coronavirus had prompted a spike in demand for a range of products.

“Customers are asking for face masks, hand sanitisers, vitamin C, pneumonia jabs and even hand-held temperature scanners. People are nervous.”

She said they had sold out on face masks but after putting in a number of requests for more stock to different suppliers were getting more stock in yesterday morning.

“The prescribed one to use for the coronavirus is the N95 face mask that helps prevent you breathing the germs in or spreading them by breathing them out if you have it.

“The main thing about the face mask, however, is to stop you touching your face and thereby transferring germs your hands might have picked up.”

She said they had also put in orders for more sanitisers because of the demand.

“Customers want the strongest ones but they are buying anything in that line that is available.

“It seems they want them for their homes and families, but also to sanitise their work stations.”

She said the run on vitamin C had begun yesterday after the first coronavirus infection in SA was confirmed.

“Lots have people have been coming in and asking for it, especially moms worried about their families.”

Some customers had also put their names down for pneumonia inoculations and hand-held scanners which could be used to check employees’ temperatures, she said.

Sanette van Eyk, front shop manager at Klinimed in Newton Park, said people had started buying face masks and sanitisers two weeks ago, apparently to send to family and friends in countries overseas affected by the coronavirus.

The pattern had changed since it was reported in Africa and then, on Thursday, in SA, she said.

“People don’t seem to be panicking but now they are flooding in.

“We  have ordered more stock but we also have a list of people who have ordered from us, so as fast as it comes in it goes out.

“Our suppliers are struggling to keep up.”

Where before the pharmacy sold perhaps 10 face masks in a year, it was now selling an estimated 400 a week, she said.

“The same with the hand sanitisers.

“Before we were selling one or two a week and now we are selling about 100.”