Single-use surgical masks are becoming the next must-have among people wanting to protect themselves and others from the COVID-19 virus.
While some have taken to buy, swap and sell sites to offload their home-made masks, chemists have reported a significant increase in the demand for face masks following an initial surge on the purchase of P2 masks during the summer’s bushfire emergency.
In response to the demand for do-it-yourself facemasks, Spotlight has even released a free, downloadable sewing pattern and instructional step-by-step video.
Politicians in NSW are pushing for the mandatory wearing of face masks on public transport, while others question their efficacy. In Victoria, it is now mandatory to wear a face mask in public for all Victorians living in hotspot areas.
An outbreak at Batemans Bay has not reached hotspot status yet despite the Northern Territory government declaring that Canberrans and anyone on the South Coast is not permitted to enter the NT.
Brand marketing manager for The Pharmacy Network in Canberra, Caroline Williams, said their stores, part of the long-established Develin group of chemists, have been well stocked with face masks since the bushfires in January.
She said although some suppliers were charging abnormally higher prices for face masks, most pharmacies had now reduced their prices so a pack of 50 single-use masks now sells for between $49 and $60, although some pharmacies have been selling them for as much as $4 each.
Region Media found one pharmacy selling boxes of 40 single-use masks for $150, while another pharmacy was selling packs of five masks for $20.
All staff at The Pharmacy Network stores have masks available to staff who are concerned about their health, but the majority of staff are not wearing a mask in store.
There is now only one active case of coronavirus in Canberra and no new cases for more than 10 days.
Ms Williams said not all masks are created equal and they sell the type II surgical mask for $1.50 and the KN9 masks for $4.
“We would recommend type II surgical masks for general wear and N95 for healthcare or clinical environments where you are working with COVID patients,”
She said they had also received enquiries and made sales to interstate customers, including in Victoria, since mask-wearing became mandatory there.
“We’ve been one of the few pharmacy groups in Canberra who have had masks all throughout this year. Then COVID started hitting in around February so we went and sourced our own masks that comply with Australian standards.
“As a result, we’ve never run out of masks.”
Sellers of homemade face masks have been offering a washable and reusable face masks for around $7 each. The mask creates a three-layer woven barrier between the wearer and the outside environment to help minimise large-particle droplets, according to the advertisement on the Buy, Swap and Sell site on Facebook.
Demand has been high, though, with the post screaming: “PLEASE BE PATIENT, WE WILL GET TO YOUR MESSAGES, JUST RECEIVED HUNDREDS OF ORDERS. We have another 500 being delivered tomorrow and will work our way down the lists”.
“Although we’ve seen some price-gouging, we expect the market to regulate itself, but we are just telling people to be careful about going on waiting lists for masks they purchase online,” Ms Williams said.
A spokesperson for Canberra Health Services said there was no supply issue for face masks in Canberra.
“The ACT currently has enough N95 masks for hospital and health care workers to protect the workforce for up to six months at current utilisation rates (which are significant given current rates of testing across the Territory).
“The ACT also has on hand more than 18 months’ supply of surgical masks (both level two and three) at current utilisation rates. The Territory’s surgical activity has returned to normal levels.”
The spokesperson also said weekly stocktakes of PPE supplies are undertaken across public and private health centre to ensure there is enough stock to respond to any COVID-19 cluster or outbreak.
With the current alert level for COVID-19 remaining low, the ACT Government is not currently considering the distribution of masks to Canberrans.
“There is no current advice from the ACT Government to wear masks in Canberra as protection against COVID-19. However, should any Canberran wish to wear a mask, people can access them through retailers across the ACT.”
The Federal Department of Health’s advice is that most people will not benefit from wearing a surgical mask.
“Masks are of benefit to people who are sick so they don’t cough on others and health care workers who have frequent, close contact with sick people,” their website says.
“Surgical masks in the community are only helpful in preventing people who have coronavirus disease from spreading it to others. If you are well, you do not need to wear a surgical mask as there is little evidence supporting the widespread use of surgical masks in healthy people to prevent transmission in public.”