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.”
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of April 8, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. As of Wednesday, Covid-19 had spread to 209 countries and infected more than 1,431,706 people with 82,080 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,351 with 160 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 4,035 confirmed cases with 57 deaths. Nepal has so far reported nine cases, in which one patient recovered.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.