Smog-hit Bangkok grapples with shortage of N95 masks

The Thai government is trying to resolve a dangerous air pollution problem in Bangkok, by seeding clouds to produce rain and using water cannons to clean streets and the air.
People wearing face masks in Bangkok on Tuesday as the air quality in the Thai capital soared to unhealthy levels.
People wearing face masks in Bangkok on Tuesday as the air quality in the Thai capital soared to unhealthy levels.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK • After spending several days choking on high levels of fine particle dust, many Bangkok residents have opted for masks to protect themselves.

But some have been unable to find the N95-grade face masks and are calling on the authorities to cover the shortage.

Meanwhile, a poll conducted by The Standard online magazine among 2,200 residents on Monday and Tuesday revealed that 50.3 per cent wore masks to protect themselves, while the rest complained they could not find one.

They said they had visited many pharmacies and convenience stores, but were told they would get one only in two weeks' time if they made a reservation or ordered the product by post.

Another poll by the magazine on Twitter found that 53 per cent of the 715 respondents wore a face mask.

Most people responded to the question - "How do you live with PM2.5 (dust particles 2.5 micrometres or smaller in size)?" - by criticising the government for being slow in dealing with the issue and not having any remedial measures in place. Many also complained of respiratory problems.

On Tuesday morning, several people in Lat Phrao Road were seen wearing masks to protect themselves. They, too, complained about the shortage of N95 masks and called on the government to help ease the shortage.

 
 

Similarly, people wearing masks were spotted in Sathorn and Silom roads, while pharmacies in the Victory Monument area confirmed a severe shortage of N95 masks.

Meanwhile, joggers in Chatuchak's Wachirabenchathat Park were also seen wearing masks, in line with official advice that people should protect themselves while outdoors because PM2.5 levels in many areas were beyond the safe limit of 50 micrograms per cubic m of air.

A man identified only as Mr Krit said he has been wearing an N95 mask during his daily run and is closely following air quality updates and warnings.

Some runners said they had halved their jogging period from the usual two hours, as running more than an hour could lead to breathing difficulties. They said they would exercise at home if the situation does not improve, while many complained of respiratory irritation and breathing difficulties.

Meanwhile, a report has warned that the air pollution will have a severe impact on the country's economy unless the authorities effectively clear the smog.

A Kasikorn Research Centre analysis on Tuesday said Thailand's healthcare and tourism sectors could face losses of 6.6 billion baht (S$280 million).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2019, with the headline 'Smog-hit Bangkok grapples with shortage of N95 masks'. Print Edition | Subscribe