Coronavirus: face masks selling for up to Dh699 a piece online in UAE

The Department of Economy in Dubai has asked consumers to file complaints if they find chemists and retailers raising the price of face masks.

Face masks are being sold for up to Dh699 on, as third-party sellers capitalise on panic about the potential spread of coronavirus in the Emirates.

The UAE confirmed its first cases on Wednesday after all four members of a Chinese family holidaying in the country tested positive for the virus.

Doctors and authorities have urged people to remain calm, stressing the risk to the general public is low.

But that has not prevented a run on face masks across the country, with many chemists reporting they had run out of stock.

They included the Meadows branch of Aster Pharmacy in Dubai, BinSina Pharmacy in The Greens, Dubai and Life Pharmacy in Dalma Mall, Abu Dhabi.

"We have many people asking for face masks," a saleswoman at Life Pharmacy in Dalma Mall in Abu Dhabi told The National on Wednesday, within hours of the confirmation of the UAE's first cases.

“The most effective one is N95 made by 3M. The price for these masks is from Dh139 to Dh170.”

Three third-party sellers on are selling single N95 masks for Dh699. Shipping is extra, according to the listing.

People complained about the price of the masks on social media.

“I bought one for my husband as he will travel this Friday and then news broke about the first positive nCov case in the UAE went back to the item in amazon to order extra and shocked to see that it was Dh439 already,” wrote one member on the Abu Dhabi Q&A Facebook page.

“The box of 20 disposable n95 was 155 aed and now it’s double the price too.”

It comes as the consumer products regulator Department of Economy in Dubai ordered chemists and retailers not to raise the price of face masks. It ordered one pharmacy to reduce the price of the products after it was found to have hiked them after the four confirmed cases was made public on Wednesday.

“DED asks consumers to file complaints if they find mask prices increased,” tweeted the department.

Experts say the masks are not necessary and people should instead focus on good hygiene, like washing their hands regularly.

Although N95 respirator masks, which are worn by doctors, do offer a better level of protection against airborne viruses than many of the masks you see people wearing, doctors say they are not comfortable to wear.

Because they are designed to fit close to the face in order to filter small virus particles, they make breathing more difficult if worn properly.

"If you find the N95 mask easy to breathe in and comfortable, you are wearing it wrong and it's no use... you think you are protected but you are not," a doctor was quoted as saying in the Straits Times of Singapore, which has also had coronavirus cases – and a run on masks.

And while it is true the virus is airborne and can be spread through coughing, doctors have said it rarely results in a runny nose or sneezing.

Because the droplets from coughing are heavier, they tend to fall down directly on to surfaces, not spread distances as sneezes can, which is why hand washing may be more effective to protect against the disease.

The family of four – a mother, father, nine-year-old girl and grandmother from Wuhan - arrived in the Emirates on Wuhan on January 16 and first contacted a doctor almost a week later after the grandmother developed flu-like symptoms.

They all subsequently tested positive for the virus.

Officials are retracing the family's steps to find out with whom they came into contact.

Dr Hussein Al Rand, assistant undersecretary at the Ministry of Health and Prevention, told The National on Wednesday all four were stable and under close observation.