With fears swirling in Hong Kong over a mysterious pneumonia strain originating on the mainland, supplies of face masks are selling out across the city, with some stores appearing to jack up their prices amid soaring demand — at least one of them tenfold.
Local authorities announced that as of noon on Tuesday, nine more people who had recently been to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, had been admitted to hospital in Hong Kong with suspicious symptoms. The group — five males and four females, aged 6 to 49 — were moved to isolation wards, and all are in stable condition after being treated for fever, respiratory infection, and pneumonia-related symptoms.
According to the Department of Health, the new patients bring the total number of suspected local cases of the virus to 30 since Dec. 31, though 13 patients have since been discharged.
News of the infections has prompted Hongkongers to rush to stock up on face masks — both surgical masks and the coveted N95s, which block finer particles — amid fears that this could be a repeat of the 2003 SARS outbreak that claimed just under 300 lives.
Though exact nature of the new virus is still unknown, SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, has been ruled out as the culprit. However, the virus does share common features with the early stages of SARS, which are characterized by common flu symptoms, including fever, shortness of breath, and headaches.
A check of the e-commerce site HKTVmall this morning found that a large number of face masks were labeled “out of stock,” and a visit to a supermarket in Admiralty found that most of its face masks had likewise been sold out.
A visit to a 7-Eleven in Sheung Wan, meanwhile, found that one over-the-counter face mask, which typically costs HK$1 (about US$0.13), will now set you back HK$5.
According to a report by iCable, one pharmacy in Sha Tin sold out of surgical masks within 30 minutes on Tuesday afternoon. One female shopper told the broadcaster that the masks were “hard to find; I went to so many pharmacies and couldn’t buy any.”
“They used to cost HK$50, now they cost HK$80” per box, she added.
Other outlets reported similar shortages of surgical masks in the city and price hikes for the few masks that remain.
An RTHK reporter who visited a pharmacy in Mong Kok found one box of 50 face masks, which used to cost HK$50, cost HK$98 yesterday. When the same reporter returned to the store 15 minutes later, the price had jumped to HK$498 (US$64).
【採訪後加價】本台記者下午到旺角一間藥房，拍攝到其中一款50個裝的外科口罩，標示為一盒$98，不願意透露身分的藥房負責人指，一天內已經賣出約一百盒，早前仍賣$50一盒外科口罩，現在加至近$500一盒，是因為來貨價上升，但沒透露升幅。約15分鐘後，原本標示為$98一盒的口罩已改為$498一盒。#香港電台 #旺角 #藥房 #口罩 #肺炎
Ming Pao reporters made similar inquiries at 14 pharmacies in North Point and Causeway Bay, and found that the most expensive surgical masks were selling for HK$120 for a box of 30 (or HK$4 per mask), while the cheapest were still around HK$8 for a pack of five (or about HK$1.60 per mask.)
The newspaper also reported that three of the 14 pharmacies had marked up their stocks of N95 masks as well, with the most expensive selling for HK$25 per mask (US$3.22). One pharmacy told the paper that the N95 masks were originally sold for HK$10, but the store had to increase its prices because wholesale prices had also increased.
Apple Daily reports that Lam Wai-man, the chairman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Pharmacy, said that masks sales were up in recent days, but maintained that although individual pharmacies may be have limited supplies, there were still plenty of face masks to go around.