Nearly 1.5m Join Online Queue to Buy Face Masks in Hong Kong


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Nearly 1.5 million people joined an online queue to buy face masks from chain pharmacy Watsons on Friday in Hong Kong.

Shortage of surgical masks has added to anxiety about the spread of a deadly coronavirus that originated in mainland China.

Watsons told local broadcaster RTHK that, though only 30,000 people were able to purchase the masks, 1.49 million people joined the queue to register for purchase before the online page closed Friday afternoon.

At 4 pm (0800 GMT) the wait just to access Watsons Hong Kong website exceeded 15 minutes.

The Watsons queue to register to purchase a pack of 50 masks reportedly jumped to 700,000 within two minutes of the midday opening.

Those able to register submitted their ID card number, email address and mobile number and received digital instructions on how to pick up and pay for their masks.

Street queues lasting hours and in some cases overnight have attracted hundreds in recent weeks as desperation increases.

A woman in her 60s named Irene said she queued on the street for nearly three hours to buy masks last week only to find she did not make the cut-off quota.

“I feel disappointed, and sometimes I feel a little bit hopeless,” she said.

“My family of four has 40 masks left and you don’t know what is going to happen, you may come down with [the virus] tomorrow.’’

The Hong Kong government website states that “a surgical mask should be discarded after use and under no circumstances should it be used for longer than a day.”

Medical professionals often use two to three per shift.

In Taiwan too, people are keen to protect themselves against Covid-19 and leaders sought to reassure the residents that there is no shortage of protective gear.

As of Friday, Taiwan has reported 18 cases of the virus, all linked to people returning from China or transit in Hong Kong, with no fatalities.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and Premier Su Tseng-chang visited factories producing alcohol sanitizers and face masks respectively on Friday.

“I assure all citizens that Taiwan’s domestic production of both alcohol sanitizers and facemasks will soon meet demand.

“It’s unnecessary to hoard such products,” Tsai told a televised news conference held in southern Tainan City.

In Taiwan, a ban on the export of disposable surgical masks, imposed in late January for one month, has been extended to April 30.

Earlier this month, the Taiwanese government asked factories to boost production and rationed purchases.

Each person covered by Taiwan’s national health insurance is allowed to purchase two masks a week at a unit price of five New Taiwan dollars (0.17 dollars).

“Children’s masks will be systematically distributed to elementary schools, which are scheduled to start on February 25,” Health Minister Chen Shih-Chung told a televised news conference in Taipei.

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