Pharmacies in Lewisham report unprecedented demand for face masks after two confirmed cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in the UK.
The coronavirus outbreak has killed 425 people in China and cases have been reported in 24 countries. Public Health England has been stressing that the risks to citizens in the UK are low, and that there is ‘very little evidence’ of the benefit of wearing masks. Some Chinese residents in the UK are however wearing them to slow down the spreading of the coronavirus.
In East Asia the wearing of face masks is common when people have health issues such as colds or flu. But clearly some Chinese people in the UK now feel the need to wear masks here, judging by the reported extra demand.
One of the biggest pharmacy chains, Boots, says on its website that stock of boxes of 50 masks is “sold out” and that they will not be “receiving any further stock”.
ELL conducted a survey of pharmacies in Lewisham. Out of ten pharmacies contacted only one said that they have face masks in stock. Osbon Pharmacy on Lewisham Way told us: “We’re sorry about this, but we cannot guarantee when we will have them in stock. Not anytime soon.”
Chinese people in Britain have been struggling to buy face masks. On the popular e-commerce and social media platform Xiaohongshu, which has over 300 million registered users, Chinese people have been sharing ideas about different ways to purchase them.
“The first way is through Amazon,” social media user @sili.qiu writes. An Oxford PhD student, he adds: “You can search key words such as FFP2 masks but they are low in stock. Or you can go to a physical store of B&Q, they only sell FFP2 masks. If you are lucky enough, they may still have some in stock. But more likely is that they are all sold out. Ebay can also be a good choice, but be careful when purchasing. It is possible that you may buy fake products.”
Some Chinese students are buying masks in the UK and sending them back to China for their family and friends or for donation such is the urgent demand for face masks in China. One customer may buy many boxes of face masks at one time and even acquire all the stocks available. This may also be the reason why face masks are out of stock in a lot of pharmacies.
User @This_is_thegreatestshow on Xiaohongshu shared his experience of sending face masks back to China. “My parents and my grandmother didn’t manage to buy any face masks in China. So once I have the chance to purchase face masks from Boots, I sent them to my family immediately.”
Meanwhile, pharmacies are also trying to stock up on face masks: “We have asked for more stocks from the supplier and hopefully, we can get the stock in this week,” the Amin Pharmacy in Brockley Road told us.