Face masks out of stock in most Winnipeg stores despite low risk of coronavirus infection

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Global's Joe Scarpelli reports on a run on face masks in Winnipeg after concerns about coronavirus rise – Jan 27, 2020

The risk of the novel coronavirus infection remains low in Manitoba, but anxiety appears to be high as face masks are out of stock across Winnipeg.

Yan Yu, a Winnipegger from China, is looking for masks but hasn’t had any luck finding them.

“I already checked like five to six stores in Shoppers pharmacy and I couldn’t find any of them.” Yu said.

“I’m looking for these masks to protect myself and my family from the virus from Wuhan.”

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Stevens Home Medical Supplies Store, located inside Health Sciences Centre, typically stocks its shelves with 1,000 face masks but is currently sold out.

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“Stock that has come in has almost immediately gone out,” General Manager Rick Stephens said.

“Nine out of 10 calls today and the last three to four days have all been mask-related calls.”

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A second presumptive case of coronavirus has been confirmed in Toronto. Health officials are waiting for test results on 19 other patients.

Stephens said he had a meeting with his staff about face masks last week before the rush.

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“I can reflect back to a few years back during the H1N1 that we had at the time and explaining to them the scenario that we could probably could expect to see happening with masks, and sure enough, it almost folded out the same way,” Stephens said.

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Several other suppliers and pharmacies contacted by Global News on Monday said they are also sold out of face masks.

Ken Humenuik, owner of Westbrook Pharmacy, said he typically carries two or three boxes of masks.

“I have none right now,” Humenuik said. “I can’t order any as of right now with an estimated availability of mid-February.”

Stevens Home Medical Supplies Store in Winnipeg is sold out of face masks amid a deadly coronavirus outbreak. Jordan Pearn/Global News

Health officials in Manitoba told Global News it is not clear that there is any significant benefit to wearing masks to prevent influenza-like illnesses, including the novel coronavirus.

A spokesperson for the province said good hand hygiene is known to provide significant protection from viral respiratory illnesses.

Additional measures include covering your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing and avoiding close contact with anyone showing symptoms of a respiratory illness, such as coughing or sneezing.

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