Chemists across the UAE said they ran out of face masks after a rush to buy them following the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the country.
A saleswoman at Life Pharmacy in Dalma Mall in Abu Dhabi said all their face masks were sold out and an urgent request had been put in to the supplier for more stock.
“We have many people asking for face masks,” she said.
“The most effective one is N95 made by 3M. The price for these masks is from Dh139 to Dh170.”
The N95 Respirator is designed to fit very closely to the face and, as a result, more efficiently filters airborne particles. The regular masks more commonly seen worn in public – which are not tightly fitted – do not offer much protection and should be changed daily.
Aster Pharmacy in Dubai was also out of stock of the masks on Wednesday. A saleswoman at its Meadows branch said they sold out two days ago – though it is unclear how many were in stock to begin with.
“We don’t know when we will get new stock. We sell the 3M mask for Dh189,” she said.
BinSina Pharmacy in The Greens, Dubai said it was also out of stock.
On Noon.com on Wednesday, the top trending item was a 3M face mask – ahead of the new iPhone and Apple AirPods. Three out of the six most popular items were face masks.
The N95 face mask is available on Amazon but delivery can take up to two weeks, making it a less-feasible option for customers.
Experts say that face masks offer limited protection and that it is generally impractical for people to wear the larger respirator masks that could offer genuine benefits.
Doctors told The National that face masks could reduce the risk of infection but did not guarantee 100 per cent protection.
“Masks provide 60 to 70 per cent protection. There are some advanced ones that will give up to 90 per cent protection but I don’t know of any mask that will protect you 100 per cent,” Dr Sizar Al Bayati, a specialist in family medicine at Dr Sulaiman Al Habib Hospital in Dubai, said.
A supplier of 3M products in Dubai said new stock would take about eight to 10 weeks to arrive in the UAE as all supplies were being diverted to the worst-affected areas in China.
The supplier stocks between three to five million general face masks but has run out of the N95 type.
“Most importers are out of masks or are holding on to their stock as they have long-term contractual agreements with their existing clients, which forbids them to sell it to others," he said.
He called on residents not to panic but to be aware that the masks would not protect them if they came into contact with an infected person.
“The N95 gives basic protection. There are high-end reusable masks with filter and cartridges that cost between Dh400 to 800 for a set but will only work if you have your eyes and ears covered," he said.
Meanwhile, online retailers began increasing prices on the N95 mask as demand increased.
“The cost of a basic N95 mask is Dh50. Retailers on Amazon have marked it up and are selling it for Dh400 but they still can’t guarantee delivery,” he said.