Face mask sales soar after UAE government says they should be worn at all times outside the home

Many pharmacists across the country have sold out of stock after message by health officials

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Pharmacies have reported a huge surge in demand for face masks after the UAE government told residents they should be worn at all times outside the home.

On Saturday, residents were urged to cover the “mouth and nose” when performing essential tasks such as food shopping or travelling to and from work.

On Sunday morning, pharmacy workers across the UAE said surgical masks started to fly off the shelves after the announcement, with many swiftly selling out of stock. However, there was still availability at some stores.

Over the past few weeks, residents have been seen wearing masks out in public, which had already resulted in a shortage of masks across some supermarkets and pharmacies.

A variety of face masks are available, with some offering greater protection against the spread of infection than others. Roy Cooper/The National

Initially, health authorities advised that only those with chronic illnesses or people showing symptoms of the virus needed to wear protective masks when in public.

However, in a briefing on Saturday Dr Farida Al Hosani, spokeswoman for the country's health sector, advised they be worn outside the home by all.

Dr Al Hosani said home-made masks made of “cotton or mixed cotton” could be used as an alternative if stocks were hard to come by.

The message came as 241 new Covid-19 cases were confirmed in the UAE on Saturday, taking the total to 1,505.

As a result, customers flocked to Manchester Community Pharmacy in Dubai Marina to buy up.

“We have seen such a high demand and have sold out,” a worker said. “We have been stocking the normal surgical masks and selling them for Dh2 each or Dh100 for a box of 50.

 

“We hope to get more in the next few days but right now the procurement team still hasn’t ordered any as it is hard to find supplier with a good price.”

On Sunday morning at 8.45am, BinSina Pharmacy in Dubai Sports City sold its last box of disposable masks.

“Actually, we just had a customer come in and buy our last box of 50 a few minutes a go,” a worker said.

“For weeks, we have only been stocking the disposable variety and we are selling a box of 50 for Dh187.50.”

At Life Pharmacy in Jumeirah, near Safa Park, stocks of the Venus FFP2 masks were available alongside the disposable version.

“We have good stocks available right now and we have not set a limit on the number of masks each customer can purchase,” the pharmacist said.

“We have about 10 boxes of the FFP2 masks priced at Dh283 for 15 pieces and the normal surgical masks, the Leo brand, cost Dh103 for a box of 50.

In the densely populated Karama neighbourhood in Bur Dubai, one of the Life Pharmacy branches was waiting to replenish stocks.

“We sold out of surgical masks more than two days ago and we are hoping to get more in the next few days but no confirmation yet,” a salesperson in store said.

“We are selling a box of 50 for Dh103 but we are selling them individually too, at D2 a piece.

“We have not stocked the N95 or FFP2 masks at this branch for many weeks.”

At its sister branch in Karama One, he said the masks were still available.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many have begun wearing surgical masks as they seek to protect themselves and others against the virus.

They help to limit or prevent the spread of infectious droplets transmitted from the nose and mouth when a person sneezes or coughs.

Dubai strengthened its safety measures on Saturday, issuing a directive that that only one member of a household will be allowed to leave the home for essential shopping – and they must wear a mask and gloves at all times.

Roshin Abdul Hameed, retail pharmacy manager for Burjeel Hospitals, where boxes of 50 basic ear-loop surgical masks are on sale for Dh95 at the group’s 28 pharmacies across the country, said there is a huge demand for the product.

“We are dependent on the local suppliers as they are getting masks imported from China," he said.

SHARJAH, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 04 APRIL 2020. COVID-19 Coverage. General image for gallery and related article. A man leaves a pharmacy in Sharjah. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Standalone. Section: National.

'We will keep these basic surgical masks in stock at all times when possible, but we want to reserve the high grade N95 protection masks for healthcare workers only.

“Families are restricted to 15 masks each as we have to protect our supplies to ensure people who need them can get them.

“We have enough in stock at the moment, but we are hoping there will not be a scarcity in the near future as this continues.”

Of 10 pharmacies in Abu Dhabi surveyed on Sunday morning by The National, only three said they had face masks currently in stock.

The stores – the Community Pharmacy in Reem Island, Life Pharmacy in Abu Dhabi Mall and Al Najah pharmacy near Mina Fish Market – were selling boxes of 50 surgical masks for between Dh103 and Dh120.

None of the Abu Dhabi stores surveyed had the more advanced masks, such as the N95 or FFP2 types, on sale.

Some pharmacies in the capital with no masks said they were hopeful that more stock would arrive soon, but were unable to offer guarantees to customers.

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