Face Masks in Demand

By Gisele Soo

The outbreak of the deadly Wuhan coronavirus has resulted in an international health emergency. As of today, there are over 40,000 confirmed cases in the world with the majority in the Hubei province of China.

Malaysia and a number of South East Asian countries are also affected. To date, there are 18 confirmed cases in the country involving those who had travelled to Wuhan, China.

This has caused much fear and anxiety among Malaysians resulting in a mad rush for face masks and hand sanitisers. Ipoh Echo visited a number of pharmacies in Ipoh to gauge the situation.

Popular outlets such as Watson, Guardian and Caring are filled with people looking for face masks and hand sanitisers as preparation for the outbreak. The sudden surge in demand for these two items has resulted in their scarcity.

As anticipated the development has been optimised by both retailers and traders. They take advantage of the situation by raising the prices of the products. This is a global phenomenon not only witnessed in this part of the world but in Communist China too.

The Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry, however, has sounded the warning to these traders. But will it have any impact on the ground? Profiteering is the name of the game.

The punishments for offenders are rather harsh. Any traders who are found to violate the price regulations may be fined up to RM100,000 or jailed up to three years or both. Companies may be fined up to RM500,000.

Types of masks that are effective against the deadly virus are surgical and to a lesser extent, the N95 mask.

How does the mask work?

Surgical masks consist of two sides. The coloured side traps bacteria. Misinformation regarding the right side has been spread on the Internet. To avoid air particles from entering the mouth, the coloured side should be worn facing outside.

The one, two, three-layered surgical masks are priced at RM7 or RM10 a box and between 20 and 70 sen apiece.

The N95 mask works as a respirator mainly to filter airborne and dust particles. The disadvantage is that it is difficult to breathe due to a lack of air passage from the mask. It costs RM6 per piece or RM100 per box of 20 pieces.

According to an Ipoh-based pharmacist, there are a few precautions that people should observe to be on the safe side. They should wash their hands frequently, avoid touching their face and avoid crowded places such as the wet market and shopping malls.

Ipohites are seen buying masks and hand sanitisers in bulk to be shared among their friends and family members. The rush does not seem to slow down.

“If the trend continues there’ll be no more masks and sanitisers in the city,” lamented one housewife when met at Guardian Pharmacy in town. “I hope the health ministry would step in and address the situation as they did in Singapore.”

She was mindful not to buy more masks than was required. She bought three boxes to share among her family members. “That’s enough,” she added.

Members of the public can buy these items online via Shopee and Lazada. It is hassle-free.


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