Happy recipients of free face masks in Dubai
Happy recipients of free face masks in Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Good Samaritans are handing out free face masks in Dubai and Sharjah in the wake of coronavirus concerns in the UAE following reports of shortages at most pharmacies.

Filipino expat Lyle Daguino Ham told Gulf News that he and his friend Patrick Fronda, decided to give away the surgical masks for free “because people have become wary about reports of coronavirus and are looking for face masks to protect them.

“We ourselves had a hard time looking for face masks until I found them readily available at a hypermarket in Sharjah,” he said. “I posted a message on Facebook telling my friends where to buy them. My friend, Patrick, messaged me and suggested to buy several packs and distribute them for free,” Ham added.

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Lyle Daguino Ham hands out free face masks in Al Nahda, Dubai on Thursday Image Credit: Supplied

Ham and Fronda bought 10 boxes containing 50 surgical masks at Dh6 per pack and distributed them to anyone they met on the street in Al Nahda on Thursday night.

Ham bought more masks and distributed them in Al Rigga, Dubai on Friday night.

“We were just happy to give out free masks,” said Ham. “We knew people were scrambling for them and that some stores have allegedly hiked up their prices,” he added.

Fronda said he was inspired by Ham’s gesture of giving out free masks and posted the story online on The City Vibes website, which is an online community portal. “The story became viral and more people were asking where to buy the masks and hopefully distribute them also for free.”

He added that this is “bayanihan,” a known Filipino spirit of helping each other out in times of need.

Meanwhile, Dubai Economic Department has warned pharmacies not to hike prices for face masks. The warning came after Gulf News reported a shortage on Wednesday in local stores.

“DED instructs pharmacies and medical supply businesses not to increase masks prices,” said the DED in a tweet on Thursday morning.

“DED resolved a business complaint by obligating a pharmacy to supply masks with its original price,” added another tweet from the department.

The DED asked consumers to file complaints if they find the price of masks had been increased.

Online stores have started selling N-95 protective masks, which cost between Dh150 to Dh180 (for a box of 20), for up to Dh599 (per piece).

Complaints can be registered at the Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection Sector in Dubai Economy by calling toll free on 600 545555.

Doctor’s comment

Dr Abner Abejo, a specialist in internal medicine at a private hospital in Dubai, told Gulf News: “Face masks are not proven to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. They will not actually protect them. It only creates more panic to the public and a false sense of security to others who wear them.” He explained that surgical masks are worn by surgeons during operations to prevent contamination.

“What we need is good hygiene and to follow some common-sense measures. Stay home when you are sick and avoid contact with sick people. More importantly, practice good hand hygiene – wash hands always with soap and water,” he added.