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Coronavirus: Pharmacies emptied of masks as wholesalers out of stock

UK pharmacies are selling out of face masks and struggling to get them from wholesalers, as the Wuhan novel coronavirus (WN-CoV) outbreak drives up demand.

Wholesalers have told C+D that they are not currently able to provide face masks, including dust and surgical masks and N95 respirators – which filter 95% of pollutants.

Meanwhile, pharmacies are selling out of face masks following the outbreak of WN-CoV. As of today (January 31) two patients have tested positive for coronavirus in England, according to the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) . 

As of yesterday (January 30), WN-CoV had infected 7,711 people in China and there are now 83 cases in 18 countries, the World Health Organisation said in a statement.

People “panicking”

Sigma Pharmaceuticals chairman Bharat Shah told C+D that this is the first time the company has exhausted its stock of dust masks.

Sigma does not supply N95 respirators, which Mr Shah claimed are sometimes recommended to stop the spreading of WN-CoV.

“I think people must be panicking and buying [dust masks] as an alternative,” he added.

“Dust masks are on order from our suppliers and I think they should be in by the first week of February. We’ve got quite a few face masks being delivered in a week or two,” he told C+D.

Wholesaler MediSupplies, which provides pharmacies with N95 and surgical face masks, told C+D that they are currently out of stock of both and said it cannot advise “if or when” the products will be available, due to the recent high demand.

Speaking to C+D, wholesaler Fortuna Healthcare said they have also run out of surgical face masks and are unable to say when the product will be back in stock.

Safe and Sound, a brand that is part of Murrays Health and Beauty group, has also exhausted its stock of surgical face masks, and does not expect them to be back in stock until the end of April or beginning of May, it told C+D.

Medical supplier Bunzl Healthcare also has no face masks available and could not specify when stocks will be replenished, when asked by C+D.

Sold out in hours

Kappi Lee, pharmacy dispenser at Watsons Pharmacy in central London, said the pharmacy sold out of face masks within four hours of delivery last week.

“We ordered [them] specifically because a lot of people were asking for it. We ordered 156 packs, each of them [containing] six face masks,” she told C+D.

The pharmacy is still receiving requests from customers, something Ms Lee believes is driven the fact that the pharmacy is located close to Chinatown and near a walk-in centre.

Pradip Patel, pharmacist and owner of Holborn Pharmacy, also in central London, told C+D that the demand for face masks is “unprecedented”, as that he also sold out within hours of receiving a delivery.

In York, Bishopthorpe Road Pharmacy has sold out twice since last week, pharmacist Katie Irwin told C+D.

Wicker Pharmacy in Sheffield,  had sold all its masks by Friday last week (January 24), before restocking on Monday this week (January 27), selling out again on Tuesday (January 28), Martin Bennett, chairman and superintendent pharmacist told C+D.

City Pharmacy in Cardiff has also been receiving requests for face masks, particularly from students, pharmacy technician Pauline McMahon told C+D. She added that the pharmacy does not normally stock face masks and that the team is suggesting customers source them on Amazon.

Boots, Lloydspharmacy, Rowlands, and Well told C+D that they do not normally sell face masks, although Boots explained that surgical face masks are a “special line” that can be ordered from their pharmacy counters.

Public Health England currently advises against using face masks outside of clinical settings.

What do pharmacists need to know about the 2019 novel coronavirus? Read our CPD module for more information.

Have you seen a rise in the demand for face masks in your pharmacy?

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