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Surgical face masks sell out in US pharmacies over coronavirus fears as death toll rises to 106

Cities across the US have been reporting shortages of face masks as people try to protect themselves from the deadly coronavirus that has spread from China.

So far, five cases of the deadly SARS-like virus have been confirmed in four US states, and 73 Americans are still waiting for their test results.

Reports have emerged of hospitals across China running out of surgical masks and begging anyone who has to donate them.

Now, American city-dwellers are rushing pharmacies for preventive supplies as well. 

Pharmacies in New York and Washington, DC told they are sold out of masks – and there’s no date in sight for a new shipment to restock their shelves.

While Chinese retailers have promised pricing freezes on masks to keep suppliers from taking advantage of the health crisis, one US pharmacist even said customers have tried to bribe her to buy her store out of masks to ship to family in China.  

Pharmacies across the US have reported that they’ve sold out of face masks amid fears of coronavirus as the infection continues to spread across the globe, already sickening five Americans. Pictured: A woman wears a face mask in Chinatown, New York on Saturday 

Teresa Zhan, a pharmacist at Chinatown Pharmacy Corp in Manhattan, told that her pharmacy sold out of surgical face masks on Sunday.

In her 10 years as an employee, she says she’s never seen anything like this before.

‘One out of every two people come in asking you for masks,’ she said. 

Zhan estimates that she’s sold somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 masks since  last week.

‘We’ve never had to stock that many before,’ she said. 

A pharmacist at Giant Pharmacy, in Washington, DC, who declined to give her name, told that her store sold out of masks on Monday.

‘Last week there was nothing and then this week everybody was coming asking for masks,’ she said. 

But Zhan and the Giant Pharmacy employee said they haven’t been wearing masks themselves.

‘If they see us wearing one, then they’re going to freak out,’ Zhan said.

‘So we take our precautions, just making sure we’re washing our hands.’

Zhan believes that while many of her New York customers want the masks to protect themselves, several of them have been buying boxes to send to their relatives in China.

Several reports say that hospitals, pharmacies and surgical supplies stories in cities across China are running out of face masks.

Zhan says she’s been in contact with many of her wholesalers, but says they told her their priority is producing masks to send to China.

But demand is as high as ever among her customers. 

‘We’ve had customers come in here and say: “How many boxes you have? I’ll give you $600.” And I’ll be like: “No, we can’t do that.”‘

When boxes, containing 20 to 30 masks each, began disappearing off the shelves, Zhan said her pharmacy began selling them individually. 

‘We had to restrict people to no more than five each,’ she said.

‘It wasn’t fair that people kept buying boxes and then there wouldn’t be any left for other customers.’ 

The Giant Pharmacy employee said her pharmacy only sold boxes that come with about 50 masks a piece.

But Zhan said masks aren’t the only thing her pharmacy has sold out of. 

‘We’ve had to order a lot of rubbing alcohol and Purell hand sanitizer because we sold out,’ she said.

When asked if the pharmacy was going to be able to restock those products soon, Zhan replied: ‘I hope so.’

The virus was recently confirmed to have emerged from illegally traded wildlife at a seafood market in Wuhan. 

Aside from China and the US, cases have been confirmed in Australia, Cambodia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.     

Cases are also suspected in Mexico, Colombia, the Philippines and the UK.   

More than 4,500 people worldwide have been infected and 106 people – all in China – have died. 


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