“Sold out in a day”: Singapore haze triggers run on N95 masks in Australia

PHARMACIES in Melbourne and Sydney have sold out of N95 masks as international students rush to purchase face masks for families and friends back home who are facing the worst haze in Singapore’s history. Diane Leow reports.

Photo: phot0geek via Flickr

Photo: phot0geek via Flickr

The dangerous level of air-pollution in Singapore has prompted overseas Singaporeans – many international students – to purchase face masks for family and friends back home in Singapore, wiping out the supply of N95 masks in pharmacies in Melbourne and Sydney.

The Airport Guardian Pharmacy at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport sold out of N95 masks on Friday, the on-duty pharmacist told Meld Magazine.

Chemist Warehouse in Darlinghurst, New South Wales has sold out of N95 masks as well.

Sydney resident Tricia Ong, who visited several pharmacies in search for the N95 mask, was told by a pharmacist at the Guardian pharmacy that additional stock would only arrive next week. It was a similar story at the Chemist Warehouse.

The guy said because Singapore has the haze, everyone just sweeps the masks off the shelf and ships them back to Singapore.

“The guy said because Singapore has the haze, everyone just sweeps the masks off the shelf and ships them back to Singapore,” Ms Ong said.

In Melbourne, the Melbourne Central Pharmacy and My Chemist on Elizabeth St, have sold out of the N95 masks.

We sold it all in a day, most of them to international students.

“We sold it all in a day, most of them to international students,” Melbourne Central Pharmacy staff told Meld Magazine.

Photo: Charles Collier via Flickr

Photo: Charles Collier via Flickr

The Pollutant Standard Index (PSI), a measure of air quality, surged to 401 in Singapore last Friday afternoon, reaching a “very hazardous” level as deemed by the National Environment Agency of Singapore.

The smog is said to be caused by the illegal burning of forests by palm-oil companies in nearby Indonesia to clear land for plantations. Neighbouring Malaysia has also declared a state of emergency in some areas due to the critical levels of pollution.

N95 face masks are the only masks that offer proper protection from the haze as they are designed to “seal to the face of the wearer”, according to Singapore’s Ministry of Health.

Surgical masks, which have been a popular alternative for local Singaporeans, do not provide adequate protection as they do not help filter out haze particles which are predominantly made up of fine particles that are 2.5 microns or smaller.

In comparison, N95 masks are 95 per cent efficient against fine particles between 0.1-0.3 microns and 99.5 per cent efficient against particles that are 0.75 microns and larger.

This has triggered local Singaporeans to purchase N95 face masks in bulk, causing an island-wide shortage.

On Thursday, Singapore’s Minister of Defence Ng Eng Hen reassured Singaporeans that there is adequate stock of masks in the country with 9 million masks available for a population of 5.14 million, and urged them not to stockpile unnecessarily.

However, many Singaporeans still find N95 face masks are difficult to obtain.

Stephanie Goh, who lives in Singapore, visited 15 pharmacies around the island to no avail.

“I ran around Orchard (Road) to at least 10 pharmacies, and then some other locations, including a medical supplier (but found none). My mum managed to get some from (a) clinic in the afternoon,” she said.

While Melbourne Tullamarine Airport’s Amcal pharmacy declined to reveal sales figures for N95 masks, they confirmed they still had stock on hand as of Saturday afternoon.

– with Jyethe Wong

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