Most pharmacies in the UAE have reported that they have run out of face mask stocks. Photo of illustrative purpose only Image Credit: AFP/file

Dubai: Most pharmacies in Dubai and elsewhere in the UAE have run out of protective face masks, especially the high quality N-95 mask.

Gulf News contacted several pharmacies to buy face masks but most of them said that they have run out of supplies. The specialised anti-viral filter mask N-95 has completely sold out, confirmed pharmacists.

Exploiting the situation, the online shopping stores have started promoting the sale of masks with exorbitant prices. An N-95 protective mask, which costs at a pharmacy between Dh150 to 180 (for a box of 20 pieces), is being sold online ranging from Dh150 to Dh599 (per piece). However, even online stores are not allowing the customers to buy in bulk limiting the sale to only one box per order.

“We are out of stock as we have sold out all kind of face masks during the last two days,” said a pharmacist at an Aster Pharmacy in Dubai. He said that most residents coming to our pharmacies are buying face masks and sanitisers. Also, he said, hospitals have got huge stocks to be distributed among their staff members.

“We have to get more supplies within two days,” he added.

Aster DM Healthcare also issued a statement on Wednesday saying that they have been diligently attempting to source new stock of masks. “ Due to fast nature that the Coronavirus has become prevalent there has been an unprecedented demand for the N95 masks which are clinically proven to be able to support the reduction of virus spread .

"Our supply team have been diligently attempting to source and procure new stock with our suppliers who are supporting as quickly as they can with production and shipment of significant quantities . We have of course a duty of care to protect our front line colleagues who look after the health of patients, so a quantity has been ring-fenced for our clinical and paramedical team to assure their safety . Our teams have been issued a procedure for caring for patients whilst also ensuring compliance with guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus,“ said Jobilal , CEO of Aster Primary Care, Aster DM Healthcare

A salesperson at the Life Pharmacy in Dubai confirmed that they do have some surgical face masks but have run out of the high quality protective N-95 mask. “Face masks are fast-moving items for the last few days in the wake of Coronavirus spread in China,” she added.

Another salesperson at NMC Pharamcy also confirmed that they have sold out all the face masks and their suppliers are also out of stock. "I don't know when the new supply will come," she said.

A box containing surgical face masks costs between Dh15 to 25 while the price of N-95 mask box ranges from Dh150 to Dh180 at pharmacies.

“We are receiving a lot more customers today to buy masks since the news of the first Coronavirus case broke this morning,” noted another pharmacist.

Coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has so far claimed 132 lives and infected near 6,000 people across the globe.

As China continues to report a growing number of cases of Wuhan coronavirus, images of people wearing face masks have become ubiquitous.

Meanwhile, face masks are reportedly selling out in cities across Asia as concerns over the spread of the deadly new coronavirus grow. China’s National Health Commission has deployed masks to health care workers responding to the outbreak, and millions of masks have been sent to residents of Wuhan, according to reports.

There are two main types of face masks that are being used for protection. One is a standard surgical mask — the kind worn by surgeons during operations. These masks are designed to block liquid droplets, and might lower the chance of catching the virus from another person.

But these masks don’t offer full protection against airborne viruses. For a start, they don’t fully seal off the nose and mouth — particles can still get in. And very small particles can simply pass through the material of the mask.

N95 respirators offer more protection as they are designed to prevent 95 per cent of small particles from entering the nose and mouth area. But they only work if they fit properly, and aren’t suitable for children or people with facial hair.