The coronavirus outbreak has prompted a run on P2 masks across the nation, stocks of which were already running low due to the bushfires crisis.
When used correctly, P2 masks can help protect against airborne viruses and filter out fine particles such as those in bushfire smoke that enter the bloodstream and can cause cancer.
By Thursday afternoon, face masks and hand sanitiser – which, alongside hand washing is considered one of the best ways to protect against coronavirus – were sold out at stores across Melbourne’s CBD, according to shop assistants The New Daily spoke with.
In outbreaks of other #coronaviruses (MERS & SARS), person-to-person transmission occurred through droplets, contact and fomites, suggesting that the transmission mode of the 2019-nCoV can be similar
— World Health Organization (WHO) (@WHO) January 27, 2020
Stores struggle to meet rising demand
Australia’s major retail stockists of P2 masks told The New Daily the bushfires and coronavirus has seen demand for P2 masks skyrocket, with many stores sold out.
Bunnings general manager of merchandise Phil Bishop said the retailer had “seen an increase in demand for masks across our stores and have limited stock available”.
“We apologise if customers are unable to get what they need immediately,” Mr Bishop said.
“We are working hard to get stock to relevant stores as quickly as possible to meet customer demand.”
An Officeworks spokesperson said there had been “ongoing demand for respiratory masks” since the bushfires started.
We’re selling out in some stores as soon as they arrive, due to the unexpected and continued demand for them,’’ the spokesperson said.
“We are working with our suppliers accordingly to ensure we stay in stock for customers.”
Wholesaler Metcash, which supplies P2 masks to hundreds of stores nationwide including Mitre-10, Home Timber & Hardware and Hardings Hardware, said that while they do have stock remaining, demand is “very high”.
“We previously called on our suppliers to get as many of these masks to stores at the time of the bushfires, particularly in regional areas,” a Metcash spokesperson said.
“Now that demand has risen again due to coronavirus scares we do have stock but demand is very high.”
Online sellers hike prices
As consumers struggle to find P2 masks at local bricks-and-mortar stores, some online sellers are hiking prices of the in-demand product.
The disposable masks, which must be thrown out after just one use, can normally be purchased at retail stores for as little as $7.20 for a three pack.
By contrast, some eBay sellers have hiked their prices in what appears to be an attempt to cash in on the coronavirus panic.
One seller, who referred to the coronavirus and bushfire smoke in their listing, was selling a single mask for $50 with express shipping.
Government’s stockpile of P2 masks takes a hit
The federal government has been forced to order more P2 masks to replenish its medical stockpile due to the coronavirus and bushfires.
The government distributed around 3.5 million masks earlier this month in response to toxic bushfire smoke blanketing major cities.
How good is Australia in 2020?
Where we were forced to use our medical stockpile of face masks to protect people from hazardous multiplied air pollution due to bushfires, just as a global respiratory epidemic was brewing.
— Dr Neela Janakiramanan, FRACS (@NeelaJan) January 29, 2020
More than 10 million masks remain stockpiled, according to Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy, with a further one million ordered last week that are due to arrive in February.
The government announced this week that it would be distributing one million masks to GPs and patients across the nation in an attempt to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.
“The masks are for patients with the relevant travel history and symptoms and their doctors who are assessing them,” Mr Murphy said.
We’re not recommending the general Australian public wear masks or take protection.
“There is no evidence of human-to-human transition in Australia.”