Surgical masks and hand sanitisers are selling out at stores and pharmacies throughout the Cayman Islands as residents and visitors snap up those items amid growing fears over the coronavirus.

Although health officials say there are no local cases of the COVID-19 virus, masks and sanitisers are being snapped up by spooked shoppers.

Pharmacies and local grocery stores have been sold out of the N95 surgical mask, which is used as a protective respiratory device, since last month after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency.

Shakira Perera, a pharmacist at Cayman Pharmacy Group, said the problem with people buying the N95 masks is that doctors are running out of one of their most vital tools.

“Physicians are begging mask manufacturers to stop selling the masks to regular places because doctors can’t get the mask either, and the N95 mask is the surgical mask they use in operating rooms,” Perera said. “In the hospitals, when they do operations, they have to use N95 surgical masks … Doctors are pleading with people to stop buying the mask if they don’t need it.”

One of the last N95 masks left at the West Bay Pharmacy in Grand Cayman.  -Photo: Carolina Lopez

Julian Bostock, supervisor at the West Bay Pharmacy, under the Cayman Pharmacy Group, said the masks have been flying off the shelves since the end of January. He said new deliveries of masks and sanitisers were made to the pharmacy on Friday and Saturday, and by Monday, they had all been sold.

“People started buying masks by the box. Some people even bought them and shipped them overseas by the box because there is a shortage of them [abroad],” Bostock said.

“Basically, it’s a mass panic in my opinion. [The masks] are disposable and you only get one or two uses out of them. Even the N95 masks aren’t going to last you more than a week because they are compressed,” he added.

Pharmacies across Cayman are also quickly selling out of hand sanitisers, though Perera said there is no need for the panic buying of the item. The best way to keep hands clean, she said, is by simply washing them with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

“People believe that the hand sanitiser is doing the trick; it’s not. It’s meant for when you are in a bind and you don’t have water and soap,” she said.

She added that it is understandable that people who are travelling buy masks because of concerns over fellow passengers near them coughing, but she advised against members of the general public purchasing masks.

“If you’re not sick, you’re not advised to wear it because once you use it, that’s it, you have to throw it away,” she said, noting that people should take advice from their doctors and pharmacists on the correct usage of masks, and adding there is a shortage on the market now “because people are buying them and … hoarding them”.

She said the best advice for combating COVID-19 is the same as that for fighting off any kind of influenza.

“Stay away from people that you see coughing and sneezing. If they cough and sneeze in your vicinity, try to turn away. Cover your face and cover your mouth to protect yourself. Wash your hands regularly. Don’t shake hands, and if you do, wash your hands immediately after. That’s the information we are trying to spread to patients,” Perera said.

Health Care Pharmacy in Grand Harbour has been sold out of the masks for the past two weeks. Alma Sobrejuanit, inventory controller, said that since WHO said the COVID-19 virus was of global concern, people have been steadily coming in to buy the N95 masks.

“There’s not a single mask left. People are desperate and our suppliers in Canada are completely out,” Sobrejuanit said.

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