Nepalis rush to buy face masks amidst coronavirus outbreak but there are none availablePublic health experts, however, say face masks alone cannot prevent the spread of the virus.
All the stores told him that they had run out.
Twenty-seven-year-old Sagar Malla also said that he was unable to find N95 masks anywhere.
“I need to buy these masks for my family members too,” said Malla.
Dust-filled Kathmandu has always had a steady demand for face masks, but ever since the novel coronavirus outbreak last month, demand has suddenly soared, selling out stocks.
With the death toll from the new strain of coronavirus rising—as of Sunday, 303 had died in China, with the Philippines reporting one death, the first outside China—and more cases of infection, Nepalis are now scrambling to purchase face masks that can provide one layer of protection against the virus. The World Health Organization has declared the coronavirus a ‘public health emergency of international concern’.
With demands rising across the world as the virus spreads, India, on Friday, banned the export of masks while China, which is one of the biggest mask manufacturers itself has been importing masks from other countries. Across Asia, as panic spreads about the coronavirus, markets are seeing a shortage of masks.
Raisa Singh, a pharmacist at Prakash Pharmacia in Teku, said that her dispensary ran out of face masks a few days ago.
“A lot of people come to ask for masks every day but we do not have a single piece to sell,” said Singh. “A lot of Chinese tourists also come to ask for a mask.”
Pharmacists say that a fear of acquiring the virus is leading people to buy masks in bulk and hoard them, resulting in a shortage in the country.
Niroj Malakar, who runs Nilam Pharmacy in Tripureshwor, said that the number of people seeking masks in his pharmacy has risen several-fold since news broke of a Nepali man testing positive for the coronavirus.
“I could make a lot of profit if I had masks to sell,” said Malakar. "But the supply of masks has stopped.”
Nepal imported 348,065 masks worth Rs30 million in the first six months of this fiscal year, according to the Department of Customs. Out of the total import, 194,820 were imported from China, followed by 76,968 from the Philippines and 30,635 from India.
Sashi Kumar Mahato, who runs the Bio-Tec Physio and Surgical Equipment House, said that supplies from India had stopped too.
Public health experts, however, said that face masks alone do not provide adequate protection against the coronavirus.
“How can a mask save one from a contagious virus that has no cure or vaccine,” Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, a virologist at the Sukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, told the Post. “There is no scientific proof that the virus will not bypass a face mask.”
The World Health Organisation does not recommend wearing face masks as a prevention measure against the coronavirus.
“The virus can be transmitting by several ways, including touching things that contain cough droplets from an infected person,” said Pun.
The rush to purchase masks is driven more by the public’s panic over the coronavirus than its use as a proven prevention method, say public health experts.
According to Mahendra Prasad Shrestha, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, in view of the possible crisis of masks, amid reports that traders were exporting them to China, the ministry last week directed the Department of Customs and the Department of Immigration to prevent the export of face masks.
“We have also directed the Department of Drug Administration to direct national companies to increase production,” said Shrestha.
Two Nepali companies that produce surgical masks have reached out, said Narayan Dhakal, director-general of the department of drug administration.
“However, these companies also need to import raw materials from China and India and there are problems with importing from both countries due to the current crisis,” said Dhakal. “We are now trying to find importers who can deliver masks in bulk.”