NZ pharmacy chain runs out of face masks amid coronavirus fears

Unichem pharmacies throughout New Zealand have completely run out of stock for face masks as the public prepares for the coronavirus potentially reaching our shores.

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A sign has been posted outside Unichem Lambton Quay Pharmacy informing customers of the shortage. Source: 1 NEWS

Wellington's Lambton Quay Unichem store put up signs this morning warning customers of the shortage.

The store's retail manager Clare Sinclair said just yesterday up to 40 people came into the store wanting face masks and people were calling about the product as well.

"We've ordered from four different suppliers, but they are all out of stock at the moment so we're hoping to get some in next week, but we can't guarantee anything," Ms Sinclair told 1 NEWS.

Wellington's Lambton Quay Unichem store put up signs warning customers of the face mask shortage. Source: 1 NEWS

Customer Sue Street tried to buy a face mask from the pharmacy this morning.

"Obviously, everyone is concerned about the coronavirus…I'm a little bit nervous," Ms Street says.

Unable to buy a face mask from the pharmacy, Ms Street said she was going to check out the hardware stores to see if she could find a similar product.

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According to Mrs Sinclair, Unichem pharmacies in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland are all in a similar situation and are having to tell their customers to go somewhere else.

A Mitre 10 spokesperson told 1 NEWS they've seen a "substantial increase" in demand for face masks across their stores over the last few years, particularly in the larger centres.

Speaking from Parliament's post-Cabinet address today, Ministry of Health Director-General Ashley Bloomfield said the ministry has a contract with a face mask provider in Whanganui who can ramp up production and distribute them to DHB’s as needed.

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Ashley Bloomfield’s comments come as some pharmacies have reported selling out of face masks. Source: 1 NEWS

However, he also stated that face masks aren't very effective against viruses.

“You can use a face mask if you like, but it is not really any protection and the staples of preventing infection are the ones that are there for influenza and other respiratory viruses.

“Those are frequent hand washing, good social etiquette, social isolation and cough and sneeze etiquette.”