With swine flu spreading panic, face masks are flying off the shelf at pharmacy shops in the capital. Chemists say they are not getting fresh supplies as it is being diverted to Pune, which has reported the maximum number of H1N1 deaths in the country.
"All the supply of masks, especially the N95 masks, has been diverted to Pune and Mumbai following the spurt in cases and deaths there. In Delhi, only government hospitals are being given masks. Retailers will not get any stock for the time being," Kailash Gupta, president of the All Delhi Chemists Association, told IANS.
While a disposable mask costs Rs 5 to Rs 10 and is still available at pharmacies, the safer N95 masks priced at Rs 115 are not available.
The N95 masks are supposed to filter at least 95 percent of all particulates that are 3 microns or larger and screen particles expelled by a sneeze or a cough.
"We have placed demand for more masks and are expecting to get the supply in the next three to four days. Very few N95 masks are available with chemists, and the old stock will soon run out," Gupta said.
Ashok Jain, president of the North Delhi Chemists Association, said: "There is panic among people after the spurt in swine flu deaths. Every third person coming to a chemist shop is asking for a mask - and they want the N95.
"We have enough stock of masks, both N95 and the three-layered one, to meet the demand," added Jain.
The Retailers and Distributors Chemist Association, allied to the All India Organisation of Drugs and Chemists, stocks supplies to pharmacies and chemists across the national capital territory. They say they aren't sure if they can cope with the growing demand.
"These masks are normally used for surgical procedures, so we weren't prepared for the sudden panic buying in the capital. The N95 masks are not available. We have asked manufacturers for more but don't think we will get the stock anytime soon," Ajay Palgupta, the association's vice president, told IANS.
The demand for Vitamin C tablets has shot up too.
"Since it has been advised to take Vitamin C to boost immunity against flu, even the demand for Vitamin C has shot up. While there is very little stock available in the market now, we should be able to meet the demand by Aug 16," Palgupta said.
India has reported 960 cases of Influenza A (H1N1) and 10 people have died of it so far.
The owner of Aashirwad Chemist in south Delhi's Greater Kailash said: "Ever since the first swine flu death on Aug 3, the demand for masks has just zoomed. We keep advising people not to panic, but when they don't budge we give them the disposable ones."
The N95 mask was recommended by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organisation (WHO) as the minimum respiratory protection required from the bird flu virus back in 2003.