Coronavirus: Pharmacies in Edinburgh sell out of face masks as patients tested for deadly illness

Vincent Wood
Tourists wear face masks as they visit Edinburgh Castle on 24 January, 2020: Getty

Boots stores in Edinburgh have completely sold out of face masks amid increasing concern over the potential spread of the deadly Wuhan coronavirus into the city.

Three people were given the all clear after being tested for the virus in the city – marking the first time officials had announced concern over the illness reaching British shores from its point of origin in China.

They made up some of the 14 who had been announced as at risk of infection but were found to not be infected by the virus.

However in the run up to patients in the city being given the all-clear hundreds of masks have been sold across the Scottish capital – with one staff member saying they had been predominantly selling the protective equipment to Chinese students.

A sign in the window of Boots on Patrick Street read: “Unfortunately we do not have any surgical or face masks in store” – while staff estimated around 200 of the breathing devices were being sold per day in the aftermath of the suspected outbreak.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Boots worker said: “We are completely out of stock for the masks and the hand gels.

“There are certainly a lot more customers coming in at the moment, and hundreds are asking for masks on a daily basis.

“People keep coming in, mainly Chinese students, asking for face masks but we have completely run out, across the whole city.

“I don’t know who the other pharmacies use for suppliers, but our suppliers are completely out.

“We have also run out of all hand gels and sanitisers at our store.”

However it is unclear how effective the masks would be if an outbreak had reached the city. Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen said the breathing apparatus was “not particularly effective” because “most of the air comes out the other side of the mask when you’re breathing”.

“I’ve always been suspicious of surgical type masks.” he added, “They were introduced about 100 years ago and they’ve never been properly assessed and the way that people wear them suggests to me that although they may reduce transmission a bit but they certainly don’t make you safe.

“If you’re breathing in contaminated air the only way to stop the virus is to have proper filters and the cotton masks that people have don’t fill round the edge.”

It comes as the first confirmed cases of coronavirus to reach Europe are announced in France, where three people have been infected.

Meanwhile The Independent understands public health officials in the UK are working with airlines to trace some 2,000 people who had come to the country from Wuhan in the last 14 day.

Additional reporting by SWNS

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