'It's been outrageous': London, Ont. pharmacies sold out of masks

Pharmacies in London, Ont. are reporting a shortage of N95 and surgical masks.

It could take weeks before new orders of masks are shipped out

One of the two common masks found in pharmacies is the N95 mask, designed to filter out smaller airborne particles. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

A number of pharmacies in London, Ont. are sold out of masks as people take extra precautions amid one confirmed case of the coronavirus in Toronto. 

"What's flying off the shelves is any mask ... people are just buying anything they can get their hands on," said Al Jiwaji, owner of the Western On-Campus Pharmacy.

There are two common masks sold in pharmacies: the N95 and surgical masks.

N95 masks differ from conventional surgical ones as they are supposed to filter out smaller airborne particles. 

"Since Thursday last week, it's been outrageous," Jiwaji said, noting about 1,000 surgical masks were brought in last week to meet demand. 

It's been a similar situation at Bellwood Pharmacy where there are no masks left to be sold.

Owner Victor Boran said as many as 16 people asked for masks on the weekend.

"These masks usually sell, maybe one every two years," he said.  

CBC News contacted six pharmacies in London, Ont., and was told none had masks in stock.

Health officials said there's no reason to be wearing masks right now.

"We are not at the stage of people wearing masks in the street," said Dr. Chris Mackie, medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit in Ontario, when asked on Sunday if people should wear masks.

"This is not something that is spreading through the streets right now."

It comes as Canada's first case of coronavirus has been confirmed, and another 19 people in Ontario are under investigation for possible infection, said Dr. David Williams, Ontario's chief medical officer.

Supplier challenges

For Jiwaji, he hasn't been able to order the N95 masks at all.

"We had a company in London who refused to sell it to us last week because they had to get permission from some higher authority," he said. 

Meanwhile, suppliers will only allow one case of surgical masks to be ordered at a time, according to Jiwaji.

It's a different story for Boran as he said his supplier is showing the N95 masks should be available for reorder on Feb. 17. 

But for those who can't wait to get their hands on an N95 or surgical mask, it appears they are out of luck.

"You can even buy them on Amazon, but the shipping [takes] a month, so it's not helpful," he said.

About the Author

Alvin Yu

CBC staff

Alvin Yu splits his time along the 401 corridor as a reporter for CBC London, and associate producer for CBC Toronto and The National. Yu set his sights on journalism early - as a kid he would anchor the news in the shower, hoping one day to make it to the big screen.