Coronavirus: Chinese students and tourists buy 12,000 face masks in Edinburgh pharmacy to send home to families

Pharmacy manager Yas Yousaf says demand for the surgical masks is outstripping supply.

Friday, 31st January 2020, 5:01 pm
Updated Friday, 31st January 2020, 5:14 pm

A Bruntsfield pharmacy boss claims to have sold up to 12,000 surgical face masks amid growing fears about the spread of coronavirus.

Paton and Finlay manager Yas Yousaf says worried Chinese students and tourists have been flocking in since news about the outbreak in Wuhan emerged, with many buying 50 masks at a time and some even purchasing boxes of 1,000 to fly home at delivery costs exceeding £100.

He says the chemist has sold out of masks until next week, with suppliers now focusing on primary healthcare providers.

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Janette Currie has been looking after the face mask orders. Pic: Ian Georgeson

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It comes after two people from the same family tested positive for coronavirus in the UK and a plane carrying 83 Britons and 27 foreign nationals from China arrived at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on Friday.

At least 213 people in China have died from the virus, with almost 10,000 cases nationally. There have been more than 100 cases in another 22 countries.

'Hysteria'

Yas Yousaf, Janette Currie, Lorraine Heron and Clara Barbra at the Paton and Finlay pharmacy in Bruntsfield. Pic: Ian Georgeson.

Speaking to the Evening News on Friday, Mr Yousaf says he "100 per cent" expects a surge in demand as the virus continues to spread worldwide.

The 38-year-old said: "It's just snowballed, people are coming in and out all the time and it's going to be impossible to keep up with demand.

"It's been crazy with WHO (World Health Organisation) declaring an emergency, it's sending people into hysteria. When you get concerned family members coming in, you see a real desire from them to help their families. They are worried because of the access to healthcare in China and it's also expensive, so they are doing everything they can.

"We could have rationed the stock but people have been coming in and they're really worried. People are sending them back to their families in China. I would say we have sold about 12,000."

My Yousaf pre-empted the surge in demand when the outbreak in Wuhan was first announced, ordering in extra surgical masks and speaking to Boots staff in Princes Street to ensure customers were aware they could come to Paton and Finlay.

He believes their location close to the Napier University Merchiston campus is a factor in the high sales.

Mr Yousaf has also sold masks to Scottish residents who he says are sending them to family in Singapore and Hong Kong.

A pack of 10 flu surgical face masks with 'antivirus and pollution protection' is currently selling on Amazon for £18.

Despite increased public demand, there is no suggestion in guidance by the WHO that wearing a face mask can help to protect against the coronavirus infection.

Instead, because coronavirus usually causes respiratory illness, the WHO advises people to protect themselves and others by frequently cleaning their hands by: using alcohol-based hand sanitiser or soap and water; sneezing or coughing into their elbow instead of their hand, or into a tissue; throwing away dirty tissues immediately; avoiding close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough.