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32 million masks on way to HK as panicked search continues

31 January 2020

By The SUN

Mask no more - the mad rush for masks in HK continues, even as the government assures millions are on their way

Millions of surgical masks are said to be on their way to Hong Kong from China as the government works to increase overall supply amid an acute shortage of the basic gear against the fast-spreading novel coronavirus. 

But the announcement of the good news on Jan 30 did not slow down a mad rush for masks, especially after online orders by Hong Kong people were cancelled by overseas suppliers, citing a lack of fresh supply.

As the search for masks intensified, Hong Kong Customs raided a pharmacy in Mong Kok and seized 68,000 masks with suspicious manufacturing dates and arrested a 27-year-old man who was in charge of the store.

Authorities posted photos of the dubious face masks on the government website 
Dispensaries with some stashed masks took advantage of the shortage to make huge profits, with their prices ranging from $180 to $250 for a 50-piece box. At least one dispensary on Hennessy Road in Wanchai priced its 100-piece box at $900 and its kids’ mask at $500 per box.

The long queues at Watson’s Pharmacy outlets disappeared on Friday after the stores put up orange posters saying they had run out of masks as well as alcohol and handrubs.  

News of the impending or ongoing delivery of 32 million masks from China were disclosed after the fourth meeting of the government committee on the crisis  convened by Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Thursday, Jan. 30.
“Having regard to the advice of experts, the Steering Committee cum Command Centre considered that it is necessary to prioritize the supply of surgical masks,” a government spokesman said in a press release on Thursday.

He said priority should be given to healthcare workers and personnel providing care services; people in the public transport, emergency services and immigration services, and other members of the public with practical needs.

The experts encourage other members of the public to go out less frequently and pay attention to personal hygiene so as to minimize the need to use surgical masks, he said.

The pneumonia-like disease that spread from Wuhan City, Hubei Province, has driven up global demand for masks sharply that supply is expected to remain tight in the short term.

Since mid-January, customs officers on both sides of the border have been working on sending to Hong Kong nearly 8 million masks that the Central government had promised. That batch has arrived or will soon arrive, the spokesman said.
 
The Philippine Consulate has requested 100,000 masks from Manila for OFWs
The government is also working on acquiring another batch of more than 24 million masks from China, as it urges retailers to sell them at the usual price upon delivery.

Tunghayan ang isa na namang kwentong Dream Love.
More supply is expected from the Correctional Services Department which is planning to produce them round the clock, increasing its output from 1.1 million to 1.8 million a month.

The only local producer of surgical masks has already doubled its overall output from 800,000 a month to 1.6 million at the government’s request, the spokesman said.

Meanwhile, relevant government departments and the Hospital Authority maintain a certain number of masks as stockpile, but their consumption rate over the past month had increased five to six times the previous rate due to the outbreak.

The spokesman said the Government Logistics Department’s stockpile can meet one to two months’ operational needs of these departments, in particular front-line officers, such as Health, Immigration, Customs and Excise staff, and Fire Services ambulance men.

The Hospital Authority said its stockpile of surgical masks is adequate for about three months’ consumption, although it has diminished recently.

The GLD is sourcing globally and has contacted more than 220 suppliers from over 10 countries. Nearly 5 million masks ordered over the past month have been delivered to Hong Kong since last week.

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