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Aine O'Connell

Irish pharmacies running out of face masks after news of coronavirus outbreak in China

There have not been any confirmed cases of the virus in Ireland, or in the UK.

IRISH PHARMACIES HAVE seen a surge in demand for surgical face masks from customers since the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, with some stores in the capital running out of these products entirely.

Suppliers are also under pressure and pharmacists who are sold out of face masks say they are not sure when they will be able to re-stock them.

Some 106 people have died from the coronavirus since December and more than 4500 people have been infected. The outbreak started in the Chinese city of Wuhan but it has spread to around a dozen countries.

There are severe shortages of surgical face masks in China, where people are being encouraged to wear them to help prevent the spread of the virus. The majority of the confirmed cases (almost 2,000) have been in China. 

Stores in a number of US states have also reported selling out of these products, though there have only been a small number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US and the Department of Health and Human Services has told Americans there is no need to panic.

“Once the news of the coronavirus was out, we had a lot of people coming in to buy them,” one Dublin pharmacist told

When we ran out, we tried to re-order them from the supplier but there’s a shortage there.

“The demand definitely went up after the news broke, and it’s not something we would normally sell out of that fast,” another pharmacist in the capital said.

“We’re waiting for the supplier to come back to us now because we don’t have any left.

“Over the weekend we had a lot of people buying them, some people who were planning to travel, and there were also people just asking about them, even if they weren’t buying – just checking whether we had any.”

Another pharmacy said they had “only a few left”.

“I don’t think we can get them from the supplier, it’s a bit of a disaster at the moment,” she added.

A number of Boots pharmacies have run out of the masks and the retailer’s website states that its box of surgical masks is sold out. It also states the retailer “won’t be receiving any further stock”.

Boots did not respond to a request for comment. The HSE also did not respond to a query about its own stocks of surgical face masks. 

Tweet by @Dr Philip Lee Dr Philip Lee / Twitter Dr Philip Lee / Twitter / Twitter

Yesterday, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) changed its travel advice for Irish citizens, advising them to avoid the entire province of Hubei, an area of around 185,000 kilometres square. It has a population of nearly 60 million. 

Previously, the department had advised people against visiting just Wuhan. A spokesperson for the DFA said the department “continues to closely monitor the situation in China, and is in ongoing contact with the Chinese authorities and the World Health Organisation”. 

The embassy in Beijing is in contact with Irish citizens in Hubei, but is understood there are not many Irish people in the province. 

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said further global outbreak is likely and there is a moderate likelihood of further cases in EU countries. The strain of coronavirus identified in China is a new strain that has not previously been identified in humans.

The HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre has said this is an emerging, rapidly evolving situation and it will provide updated information as soon as it becomes available.

“Outbreaks of novel virus infections among people are always of public health concern, especially when there’s little knowledge about the characteristics of the virus, how it spreads between people, how severe are the resulting infections and how to treat them.”

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