Jump in sales of N95 masks ahead of haze season

Check by Case shows they are 'readily available'

The haze may not have descended on Singapore yet, but some people are not taking chances.

Two major pharmacy chains have seen a jump in sales of N95 masks in the last one or two months, though checks by the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) show that these are still "readily available".

At Unity pharmacies, sales of masks have gone up by about 20 per cent this month and in May, compared with April. Last year, the company sold one million N95 face masks.

Mr Andy Wan, director of wholesale and housebrand at NTUC Unity Healthcare, said the company expects "a significant increase" in face mask sales when the haze returns and is ready to "quickly replenish the masks at our 54 outlets whenever stocks run low". "We are also stocking up on other haze-related items such as eye drops, inhalers and medication to relieve throat irritation," he added.

Watsons has also seen "a surge in demand after recent haze reports in the news", said Mr Benedict Leong, marketing director of Watsons Singapore. It has sold 50 per cent more N95 masks for this month and May, over April.

Meanwhile, in anticipation of the haze, Case checked with 57 authorised retailers of N95 masks from June 13 to 15 and found them "readily available", it said in a press statement yesterday.

It carried out the price and availability checks, given that the price of these masks rose to $8 each last year.

N95 masks of good quality are those certified by a national work health body in the US to be at least 95 per cent effective in filtering fine particles.

Case's checks found that a N95 mask costs between $1.38 and $3.90, depending on the model and manufacturer. It warned consumers against buying masks from unreliable sources and noted that N95 masks in Singapore are not designed to fit children.

Besides checking on face masks, Case also tested 10 randomly selected brands of air purifiers.

In haze conditions, all of them efficiently removed respirable suspended particles (RSP) and volatile organic compounds (VOC).

The former refers to atmospheric particles with diameters of 10 micrometres or less, while the latter refers to organic chemicals that have a high vapour pressure at ordinary room temperature. High levels of them are harmful.

On average, the 10 purifiers had an elimination rate of 98.37 per cent for RSP and 99.78 per cent for VOC.

At least one major store has seen brisk air purifier sales. Courts has seen demand for these go up by three times on average this year over last year, said Mr Tim Luce, country chief executive of Courts Singapore.

Finance manager Andrew Tan, 62, has already bought an air purifier and N95 face masks for his family. "I was caught by surprise last year when I went to several stores and N95 masks were out of stock at all of them. This time around... I am better prepared."