Hand sanitizer, face masks sell out amid coronavirus fears

‘(Suppliers) are letting us either order a very small amount at a time or they’re reserving quantities for higher priority places such as hospitals,’ says city pharmacist

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People looking to stay healthy amid growing fears over the spread of the coronavirus will be hard pressed to find hand sanitizer in the city: the germ-killing product is flying off shelves and business owners have no idea when they’ll be restocked.

Shelves at Sutherland Drugs have been bare since last week after customers quickly bought up a small shipment of the alcohol-based sanitizers, said pharmacist Aaron LaBorde.

He’s been unable to place another order with the store’s Alberta-based suppliers since.

“(Suppliers) are letting us either order a very small amount at a time or they’re reserving quantities for higher priority places such as hospitals,” said LaBorde.

Daily, LaBorde said up to 20 customers have been asking the same question: “Do you have hand sanitizer?”

Neither pharmacist Aaron LaBorde nor his Alberta-based suppliers know when items like hand sanitizer and face masks will return to his downtown Yellowknife store. Products are backlogged and shortages are widespread as consumers clear shelves amid mounting COVID-19 concerns.
Brendan Burke/NNSL photo.
March 9, 2020.

Late last month, Kami Kandola, NWT’s chief medical official, repeated advice from Canada’s health minister: prepare for coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, by stocking up on two-weeks worth of groceries and other essentials.

Mounting concerns surround the respiratory virus’ spread in Canada — and the North — led to the unprecedented cancellation of the Arctic Winter Games, set to draw large numbers of international athletes to Whitehorse, Yukon.

The decision, based on a recommendation from Yukon’s top doctor, came days after Alberta recorded its first confirmed cases of the virus.

As of Tuesday, there were no recorded cases of COVID-19 in any of the territories.

On Monday, health officials in British Columbia announced Canada’s first-ever death from the virus. A man in his 80s died Sunday night, the province said.

The product’s current scarcity in the city mirrors a worldwide trend — concerned consumers are stocking up on the disinfectant, along with face masks.

Protective medical masks are sold at Sutherland Drugs, too.

“We ordered some in late January and they haven’t showed up yet,” said LaBorde. “They tell me they’re going to send them to me when they’re in stock, but I have no idea when that will be, and neither do they.”

LaBorde isn’t alone.

Shoppers Drug Mart, Glenn’s Independent Grocer, the Co-Op and Trevor’s Independent Grocery were all sold out of hand sanitizer as of Monday evening. Face masks at the same major area stores are either dwindling or non-existent.

A discarded face mask sits on the sidewalk outside Shoppers Drug Mart. Inside, the store is sold out of hand sanitizer and protective masks, mirroring a city-wide, and global, trend.
Brendan Burke/NNSL photo.

Of the stores surveyed by NNSL Media Monday, only the downtown Reddi-Mart had a small pile of travel-sized hand sanitizers. Larger bottles had long been cleared from shelves by customers.

Glenn Meek, owner of the downtown Independent, said the store has been experiencing shipment delays for certain products in recent days.

Meek has also noticed some product stockpiling by customers, he said.

Grocery stores and pharmacies aren’t the only businesses in town feeling the coronavirus pinch.

The owner of Break Away Fitness, who identified herself only as Norma, said the virus has been a topic of conversation among members at the downtown gym, where people exercise in close quarters.

Norma estimates the gym is seeing about five-per-cent fewer members working out recently, although she said it’s hard to clearly connect the dip to coronavirus fears.

The gym has hand sanitizer for members. Being a nurse, Norma said hygiene and health has been a priority at Break Away Fitness since she became the gym’s owner almost two years ago.”

“We are well protected here,” she said. “Proper hygiene is something that should always be practiced anyway, so it shouldn’t take a virus to make you want to wash your hands.”

Currently, the territory’s Office of the Chief Public Health Officer says NWT residents risk of acquiring COVID-19 in NWT “remains low.”

As of Tuesday morning, there have been 72 cases of COVID-19 in the country, according to the latest from Health Canada.

Worldwide, 114,415 cases and 4,026 deaths have been confirmed, World Health Organization statistics show.

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