At-risk suffer from mask buy-up

Saf Kear from The Good Podiatrist in her mask while with a client. Photo: Daniel Hines.

Surgical masks are almost impossible to come by in the Bay of Plenty as people prepare for the impact of a possible Coronavirus outbreak.

Tauranga pharmacists, hardware stores and medical suppliers spoken to by The Weekend Sun were all out of stock by Wednesday this week. 

The shortage is impacting those suffering chronic conditions and who need masks for protection and those who use them for their everyday jobs.

Saf Kear from The Good Podiatrist uses surgical masks while she is with clients to protect her from dust and water splash back.

She says she has checked with all of her suppliers and they are either sold out or on back order due to the Coronavirus.

Tauranga resident Sheryl needs rituximab infusions every couple of weeks for her rheumatoid arthritis.

The treatment suppresses her immune system so she wears masks afterwards to protect herself.

“[The] chemists had all sold out and then went online to source some, only to find out sites like Pharmacy Direct NZ all out of stock too.

“[I] searched for over an hour online to no avail. Finally sourced a box of 20 face masks online from TradeSafety.

“Because I am now immune suppressed I would really want to be wearing a face mask out in public to keep myself safe from picking up any airborne infections and viruses. I am always meticulous with hand washing and use hand sanitiser at work.”

She says she bought the last few bottles of hand sanitiser from Countdown Tauranga and Countdown Greerton. Everywhere else she tried had already sold out.

The recent outbreak of Coronavirus is close to becoming a pandemic with more than 17,000 cases in multiple countries. However, there are no known or suspected cases of Coronavirus in New Zealand, as confirmed by the director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield this week.

Worldwide, more than 2000 people are in critical condition and more than 300 people have died.

Owner of Life Pharmacy on Devonport Road Garth Mitchinson says when they last had stocks of masks in, they sold out within a day.

They haven’t had any stock for about a week. The pharmacy has also sold out of hand sanitiser.

“Since then, we have been getting 15 to 20 inquiries a day, bare minimum,” he says.

He doesn’t know when they will get more stock in, but the Ministry of Health says it could be up to eight weeks.

At the moment, don’t panic, says Garth.

“There is no urgency in New Zealand to be protected from it. If they were travelling to China or anywhere there is an active outbreak then you’d want to perhaps consider some other safety things.

“[It is] very hard to get masks anywhere in New Zealand at the moment, I would suspect. But if there is no urgent need, then there’s not really a necessity for them to get masks at the moment,” he says.

Inventory manager Nicky Bold at Mitre 10 Tauranga on Cameron Road also confirmed they had sold out of masks.

“We’ve gone to a couple of different suppliers and we have got some coming, but the suppliers are limiting us to 50 units per store,” she says.

TradeMe has also had a rise in surgical face masks for sale on the site.

Prices range from $10-$50. There are some masks which are selling for $100 plus.

Dr Phil Shoemack, medical officer of health for Toi Te Ora Public Health, says there are no confirmed cases of Coronavirus to date but the likelihood of importing a case is high.

“The risk of an ongoing outbreak in New Zealand remains low.

“To protect yourself and others from Novel Coronavirus you should always practise good hygiene by covering coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues or clothing, washing hands for at least 20 seconds with water and soap and drying them thoroughly – before eating or handling food, after using the toilet, after coughing, sneezing, blowing your nose or wiping children’s noses, after caring for sick people.

“People with symptoms of acute respiratory infection should practise good cough etiquette,” he says.

Symptoms of 2019-nCoV are similar to a range of other illnesses such as influenza and do not necessarily mean that you have Novel Coronavirus. Symptoms include fever, coughing and difficulty breathing. Difficulty breathing can be a sign of pneumonia and requires immediate medical attention.

If you have a fever, cough or difficulty breathing, phone Healthline on: 0800 611 116.