Health 15:15 26/02/2020 Armenia

Armenia facing face mask shortage amid coronavirus fears

Author Lala Ter-Ghazaryan

A few weeks ago, when the novel coronavirus in China first hit the news, people wearing face masks were often spotted along the streets of Yerevan. People wearing surgical masks can rarely be come across now. You won't find a face mask at pharmacies.

Panorama.am visited the pharmacies in Armenia’s capital following the reports of citizens to find out that all of them are short of surgical masks.

An employee of a pharmacy in Shengavit district said they have not had surgical masts for a long time already, with the last box containing 50 masks having been bought by Chinese nationals. The pharmacy administration confirmed that the price of face masks has surged.

“We have had no masks for more than a month. We received them from China, but now they are not selling them,” said an employee at a pharmacy on Mashtots Avenue.

The pharmacy located at Urartu Store on the same avenue said the masks were sold out, but they expected to receive new supplies on 25 February.

Natalie Pharm pharmacy network has a total of 124 pharmacies. Speaking to Panorama.am, a source from the pharmacy chain said that only the Artashat pharmacy branch has four masks and there are two masks in the Abovyan branch. All the other branches have no face masks.

They imported three-layer Chinese masks, with 50 masks in a box, and sold for 1,300 drams, giving assurances that the mask prices did not grow during the sales.

Alfa Pharm said that they have no stored surgical masks and don’t know they will receive a new batch.

The 9-11 pharmacy chain said they are out of face masks as well and have no idea when they will be available at the store.

How can medical facilities acquire face masks amid such a shortage? Erebuni Medical Center said they make large-scale purchases and now they have masks in stock.

Surgical masks have exclusively been imported to Armenia, the Ministry of Health told Panorama.am.

Artavazd Ohanyan, the director of Medpro LLC engaged in imports of masks from China, told Panorama.am that the last batch of face masks was imported into Armenia in September-October of 2019. Knowing the demand for the mask in the Armenian market, they did not import more masks last year. According to the entrepreneur, his company imports some 500-700 thousand masks annually.

“There are many importers, but we know the demand. No one was expecting such a force majeure,” he said.

The businessman explains that the masks are mostly imported into Armenia from China. Since January 15 to February 3 China celebrates the New Year and they are non-working days in that country, no face masks were produced in that period. Subsequently, due to the coronavirus outbreak and the increasing deaths from the virus, the non-working days were extended first to February 9, then to February 15, and later to February 23. Companies are producing face masks only for the domestic market and their imports are not possible, he said.

Asked whether it’s possible to import surgical masks from other companies, the businessman said they could be brought from the neighboring countries –  Iran, Turkey and Russia. There is no company producing medical masks in Georgia, he said.

"But now, not only the regional companies, but also the world's manufacturing companies are sending masks to China, because the country has produced them for a long time, and the demand is high. In China, the price for a box of masks has reached $50. Manufacturers have orders for 3-4 months and are unable cannot accept new orders. The whole batch of masks is shipped to China,” Artavazd Ohanyan said.

Mask imports are currently possible if a company made an order in December. Shipments from China arrive in Armenia within 2-2.5 months.

"But I don't think it's going to be a large batch," he said.

It turns out that the shortage of masks in Armenia will persist for months when neighboring Iran has also reported coronavirus deaths.

Under such conditions, Minister of Health Arsen Torosyan's statement that the ministry and its subordinate bodies have all sufficient professional and technical capacity to combat the infectious disease is extremely weird.

In the current situation, one has to rely only on one's own mask-making skills.

You can take a piece of cotton, divide it into strips and tighten them together. The more the layers, the more effective the mask. Then add the straps. The mask can also be made from gauze. They can be washed once a day and disinfected with ironing once every few hours.  

And remember prevention is better than cure.



Source Panorama.am
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