Chinese nationals living in Singapore buy masks to send back home

A shopper buys surgical masks from a pharmacy in Orchard, on Jan 23, 2020. ST PHOTO: JOEL CHAN

SINGAPORE - Some Chinese nationals living in Singapore are buying masks to send or bring home, as shortages have arisen in some places as people rush to stock up in the face of the escalating coronavirus outbreak.

Discussions have proliferated among WeChat messaging groups in the past few days on where to buy mainly N95 face masks.

Some are going from pharmacy to pharmacy, while others are buying them online. Some have even approached wholesalers.

In one social media post, a Chinese national also offered her services to help send masks back home to those who are unable to buy it.

Those going home to celebrate Chinese New Year will be packing some masks in their suitcases.

Technical adviser Hong Mingyu, 27, told The Straits Times that he knows about a dozen Chinese nationals besides himself who are buying masks for others back home.

He bought five boxes of N95 masks and has asked his friend to bring back four to his family back in Fujian. The fifth box is for his wife and himself, as they remain in Singapore over the holiday.

Fujian has seen five reported cases of the Wuhan virus so far.

"Most of the masks, especially the N95 masks, are out of stock in my hometown," Mr Hong said. "It is Chinese New Year now, so deliveries there are also limited."

Mr Hong said: "Everything is still fine back home, and my family and in-laws, they are not worrying about this much.

"It is my wife and I who are more worried about the situation than they are. It is a similar case with most of my friends born in the 1980s and 1990s."

While health authorities here say surgical masks are more practical for the general public to use as a safeguard against the Wuhan virus, Mr Hong said all of his friends preferred to get the N95 masks, which can effectively filter airborne particles. He said that they see the masks as being more durable and easier to put on.

E-commerce websites Qoo10 and Lazada reported sharp spikes in the sales of the masks, with the latter saying on Thursday (Jan 23) it was working with its sellers to replenish its current low stock to meet the demand.

Meanwhile, a picture shared online shows a sign at Unity Pharmacy in VivoCity saying the pharmacy is limiting purchases of N95 and surgical masks to one box per customer.

Some Chinese, like student Li Yi Xuan, 21, are mindful not to buy more masks than they need. He bought three boxes to share among his family back in Xi'an, his friend and himself. "It's enough," he said.

"If people buy more of the masks than they need, then there won't be enough left for others."

Additional reporting by Tiffany Fumiko Tay

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