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Retailers bumping up supply of face masks as sales soar in a week due to Wuhan virus

SINGAPORE — Retailers in Singapore are busy stocking up their supplies of face masks as sales have surged over the last week. This is due to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China that is spreading around the world and consumers here trying to arm themselves with some protection.

People wearing face masks outside Woodlands checkpoint.

People wearing face masks outside Woodlands checkpoint.

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SINGAPORE — Retailers in Singapore are busy stocking up their supplies of face masks as sales have surged over the last week. This is due to the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, China that is spreading around the world and consumers here trying to arm themselves with some protection.

The retailers approached by TODAY said that they will be working with their suppliers to meet the growing demand. This is expected to go up even more now that Singapore has confirmed the first infection on Thursday (Jan 23). 

A 66-year-old resident of Wuhan flew to Singapore from Guangzhou on Monday night and fell sick with fever and a cough a day later. He went to Singapore General Hospital on Wednesday and was admitted and isolated before the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Thursday that he tested positive for the virus. 

Before MOH announced the first infection, sales of surgical masks, and especially N95 masks, have been going up.

Other items such as thermometers and hand sanitisers are seeing increased sales as well. 

Data provided by personal care stores Watsons and Guardian revealed that the sales of surgical masks have jumped by four to five times since the start of the year. 

Supermarket NTUC FairPrice said that sales of these masks have leapt by more than five times in the past few days. 

“Stocks for these items at Unity and FairPrice outlets are subject to availability. We are working with suppliers to ramp up supply to meet the surge in demand.

“We urge customers to only buy what they need so that everyone who needs it will be able to have one,” a spokesperson from FairPrice said. 

A spokesperson for Guardian said that there are sufficient stocks in its stores, including the ones at Changi Airport, but to prepare for a spike in demand, it has allocated more stocks for all its stores. 

Surgical masks were out of stock on Jan 22, 2020 at a Watsons store in Changi Airport. Photo: Nuria Ling/TODAY

At a press conference on Wednesday, an official from MOH said that consumers need not wear N95 masks to guard against the virus and surgical masks will suffice, The New Paper reported.

Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at MOH, said that the tighter-fitting N95 masks are designed to filter airborne particles and have been used during the haze.

Surgical masks, which block large-particle droplets and splatter, can help reduce the spread of a virus and are more practical for the general public to use.

Mr Ng How Yue, Permanent Secretary for the MOH, said in the same news report: "The general advice is that if a person falls sick, they should wear a surgical face mask, not an N95 mask.”


Since Wednesday though, N95 masks have become one of the top three most-searched keywords on e-mart Lazada.

Keyword searches for terms such as “N95 masks” and “face masks” have also increased for other online retailers such as Qoo10 and Shopee.

Mr Tiger Wang, head of marketing at Shopee Singapore, said: “There were minimal to no searches for these products prior to the developments of the Wuhan virus outbreak, but we began seeing bigger spikes in the searches for these products in the last week as developments became even more widely reported.”

At Qoo10, the sales of N95 masks over just two days — Jan 21 and 22 — jumped by 26 times compared to the start of the month. 

Its spokesperson said: “At the start of the month, the daily quantity of products sold were all in the single-digit range… This was a sudden and very steep increase, not a gradual one.”

As of Wednesday afternoon, five out of the 15 bestsellers displayed on Qoo10 are face masks. 

The Qoo10 spokesperson said that it expects to see similar spikes for hand sanitisers, thermometers, air purifiers and antiseptic wet wipes. 

Mr Wang from Shopee said that the sales of N95 masks, surgical masks and thermometers on Tuesday increased by seven times compared to an average day in the last week of 2019. 

In particular, the sales of N95 masks jumped 46 times. 

While Lazada did not provide sales figures, its spokesperson said that it is low on stock for face masks now but are working closely with their sellers to replenish the masks to meet the demand. 

Qoo10’s spokesperson said that it will also work directly with its merchants to ensure that the inventories are appropriately stocked. 

This is “to minimise the chance of crucial products running out of stock, and causing a backlog in demand.”

The new coronavirus circulating among people is in the same family as the one that caused the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) outbreak which killed almost 800 people worldwide from 2002 to 2003, including 33 in Singapore.

It is believed to have originated in Wuhan in Hubei province and 17 people in China have died from the infection so far. Those infected have developed fever, pneumonia and other flu-like symptoms.

To date, there have been confirmed cases in Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam. 

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