Coronavirus outbreak: Masks, hand sanitisers fly off shelves as demand rises

Updated on Mar 05, 2020 05:30 AM IST

At the Apollo pharmacy in Vasant Kunj, pharmacists said people are placing orders for as many as 500 to 600 units of hand sanitisers at a time.

Operators at a medical store are seen wearing protective masks following multiple positive cases of coronavirus in the country, at Safdarjung Hospital, in New Delhi.(Photo: Biplov Bhuyan / Hindustan Times)
Operators at a medical store are seen wearing protective masks following multiple positive cases of coronavirus in the country, at Safdarjung Hospital, in New Delhi.(Photo: Biplov Bhuyan / Hindustan Times)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi/Agra | ByHT Correspondent

With cases of coronavirus steadily increasing across the country, there has been a surge in demand for masks, hand sanitisers, disinfectant wipes and common medicines, including paracetamol and Vitamin C tablets across the country.

Delhi, where 22 of the 27 people currently suffering from Covid-19 are being treated (of the remaining five, two in Hyderabad have tested positive in initial tests and are awaiting confirmation from the National Institute of Virology in Pune) saw a rush for these. Many pharmacists in Delhi said they have run out of masks and hand sanitisers in the last three days.

Three others, who were India’s first cases of Covid-10, all from Kerala, have since recovered.

At the Apollo pharmacy in Vasant Kunj, pharmacists said people are placing orders for as many as 500 to 600 units of hand sanitisers at a time. Chanchal Singh, the pharmacist, said, “We have completely run out of stock of masks and hand sanitisers. We are not selling disinfectant wipes and suggesting that people buy online till we get fresh orders.”

Both masks and hand sanitisers were still available on online platforms, including Amazon and Flipkart, on Wednesday evening.

Pharmacists in other localities said that they are seeing brisk sales of masks, hand sanitisers and some medicines. Dikshaya Mishra of Fortis HeathWorld in Khan Market said, “Besides masks and sanitisers, a large number of people are also buying Vitamin C tablets. The demand for paracetamol is as usual. ”

Krishna Dutt Tiwari, a pharmacist in Mayur Vihar, said that people are particularly asking for N95 and N99 masks.

Atul K Nasa at the Delhi Drugs Control department has issued an advisory to pharmacists to keep adequate stock of masks and hand sanitisers and distribute them judiciously to customers. He has also warned them against overcharging or hoarding.

In Agra, too, where six of the cases were detected (the patients were moved to Delhi for quarantine), there’s been a rush for masks and sanitisers.

People are ready to pay ~500-1000 for N-95 masks and shopkeepers are flooded with calls from customers, asking them to arrange for the masks.

Chander Pahuja, a wholesale dealer in the city’s Fuvarra market, said, “We are getting many calls and requests from customers about N-95 masks. Buyers from government offices, hotels and private hospitals are coming to inquire about them. Masks are in short supply as some traders have begun black marketing.”

Doctors in Agra’s SN Medical College and district hospital have expressed concern over the scarcity of N-95 masks. There is similar concern at health centres.

A doctor in SN Medical College said on conditions of anonymity: “We are the ones who interact with the patients directly but we are working without masks. The medical college administration and district administration should provide masks to all residents and senior residents.”

Doctors said there is no need to stock up medicines and masks. “Mostly, people need reassurance and fact-based information. I tell them there’s no need to stock up on medicines and masks, but that all children should be taught hand washing and coughing etiquette, where they should cough in into their sleeve [elbow] and not the palms,” said Dr Anupam Sibal, a senior paediatrician and group medical director, Apollo Hospitals Group.

Dr BK Tripathi, professor of medicine at Safdarjung hospital, said that people have started hoarding masks. “They should know using a mask is not recommended. WHO says that a mask is only needed for healthcare workers who are coming in contact with the positive patients... The others do not need it,” he said.

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