Longer wait for face masks


Customers are being notified even before they enter stores that face masks are sold out.

KOTA KINABALU: The public may have to wait a bit longer for the supply of face masks to be replenished due to the Chinese New Year holidays.

Sundry shops, pharmacies, drug stores and 24-hour convenience stores around the city have run out of face masks and hand sanitiser following increased public awareness on the threat posed by the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has led to the steep rise in the demand for the two items.

Gaya Pharmacy owner Yee That Hian said the people have been clamouring to get hold of face masks amid fears of the deadly novel coronavirus outbreak.

He said more than 10 customers, mostly tourists, have asked for face masks soon after his pharmacy reopened after the Chinese New Year holidays yesterday morning.

“Many locals and tourists are trying to get hold of face masks but we have run out of stock.

“I am not certain whether a new batch of face masks will arrive next week because West Malaysia is out of supply as well.

“If there is a new supply of face masks, West Malaysia will get the stock first while we would have to wait.”

Yee said the N95 and 3-ply face masks had all been sold out at his pharmacy before Chinese New Year.

“We usually do not keep a large quantity of face masks in our inventory,” he said.

Additionally, he said hand sanitizers have also been flying off the racks.

“Many customers who are looking for hand sanitizers left empty-handed.”

Despite the shortage of face masks, Yee hoped that the public would remain calm and maintain their personal hygiene, including washing their hands frequently and refrain from rubbing their eyes to avoid contracting the virus.

“Members of the public need not panic as there is no case of the Wuhan coronavirus in Kota Kinabalu yet.

“Those who could not get hold of face masks should avoid crowded places.”

He added that elderly folks with asthma and children with weak immune system should pay attention to their personal hygiene and stay in well-ventilated spaces instead of crowded air-conditioned rooms.

A sales assistant at a drugstore chain said those from as far as Lahad Datu and Kunak have come to the state capital to buy face masks and sanitisers, and stocks run out almost as soon as they are replenished.

“We don’t know when these items will be restocked and we can’t guarantee what amount we would be getting either, as it depends on the supplier. Stock has to be distributed evenly among outlets, and some stores may not even receive any,” said the sales assistant.

It is the same with smaller pharmacies in residential areas such as Lido, where even tourists go to buy face masks and sanitisers. However, prices remain the same.

This is especially emphasised following a statement by the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs, which stated that stern action would be taken against those who take advantage of the situation by raising prices of these items.

For those who did not manage to secure masks and sanitisers in time, other precautionary steps include avoiding crowded places, especially tourist attractions.

Catherine Hung opined that the situation, particularly in Kota Kinabalu and its surrounding areas, is still manageable with little to no instances of mass hysteria.

“I think the situation is still under control now but if it gets more serious, just use face masks and sanitiser as a precaution. For now, I think it’s good enough to avoid very crowded places,” she said.

Catherine recently celebrated the Chinese New Year with her family, including her son, Melvin Hung, who returned home from Johor.

Melvin, who stays in Johor Bharu and works in Singapore, said the company he worked for issued a directive that all staff returning from China after the holidays are to take 14 days’ leave, as a precaution.

This is especially crucial given that half of the company’s employees are from China.

“Those returning from China were also asked to conduct a medical check-up before returning to work.

They were asked to take leave of up to 14 days, because 50 per cent employees are from China and the company doesn’t want to take any chances,” he said.

Regarding his return to Johor for work, where four cases had been reported thus far, Melvin said he would just have to take whatever precautions necessary so that he could continue working.

Meanwhile, flight attendant Sheldon Ng said the airline he is working with had put additional measures in place to continue serving passengers as best they could during these times. Among extra steps include closing down China routes, heightened vigilance of passengers’ health condition and compulsory use of face masks, with added use of gloves when necessary.

“It is now compulsory for us (cabin crew) to wear face masks and gloves when necessary. We also have to be more alert for passengers’ profile and health condition.

If there is any unusual coughing or fever, we will report it immediately.

“As a personal precaution, I bring my own hand sanitiser at all times. Whenever I’m flying, the first thing I do is sanitise my galley and the toilet. Usually, aircraft cleaners would clean the cabin after flight is parked, but I’ll clean again just to be extra careful,” said Sheldon.

Additionally, he urged members of the public to exercise consideration when sneezing or coughing, especially in shared spaces with other people around.

He said the least everyone could do is cover their mouths and clean their hands afterwards.

Aside from the usual precautions, working mother Nazira Abidin is now extra particular about restaurants her family dine at, especially after her husband Sean and four-year-old son Damian contracted Influenza A back in December.

“We don’t eat at stalls, especially when Damian is with us. We are also very particular about the cleanliness of the place we eat at, ensuring there are no flies and that workers observe strict standards,” she said.

Sean and Damian are still under doctor supervision with regular check-ups, though they were allowed to recover at home.

The family avoid leaving the house as much as possible, and Nazira ensured everything is clean and sanitised. She added that they make a habit of washing their hands regularly.