You will now pay up to R150 for a mask in SA due to coronavirus – and it may not work

Business Insider SA
Source varied.
Some masks can fetch for as little as R5 per mask, while others are selling for R150 per mask.
  • Masks are in hot demand in South Africa as the threat of the novel coronavirus grows.
  • Some masks cost as little as R5 each, while others are selling for R150, depending on the quality
  • Wearing a mask is recommended when you are ill – but may not protect you from catching the virus behind Covid-19.
  • For more, go to Business Insider's home page. 

Masks are in hot demand in South Africa as coronavirus concerns grow, with pharmacies reporting an increase in sales and online promotions running hot.

Some masks are selling for as little as R4 each, while others are selling for R150, depending on the quality. Despite shortages elsewhere in the world – particularly in countries that, unlike SA, have confirmed cases of Covid-19 – local retailers say they're managing to keep shelves stocked.

The novel coronavirus continues to spread across the globe with over 89 000 people diagnosed, and just over 3 000 people dead. 

But wearing a mask may not help prevent infection. Experts say you are more likely to get infected by touching contaminated surfaces and then your face, rather than from a cough-induced droplet traveling through the air.

See also: Not all masks are equal when it comes to stopping coronavirus. Here’s what SA experts say

This is what face masks current cost in South Africa.

Typical surgical face masks: R10.99 to R19.95 for 5

A simple surgical face mask is designed to protect others from you, rather than the other way around. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends wearing these simple surgical masks when you are sick, to reduce the risk of contaminating others.

South Africans are not used to seeing them, but in densely populated cites in Asia they are a common sight on trains and in public spaces, often worn as a courtesy by those who have something as minor as the common cold.

These masks can easily be found in your local pharmacy, and they go for as little as R4 per unit. 

Dis-Chem Medic Surgical Face Masks, 5 units - R 19.95

Source Dis-Chem.
Dis-Chem Medic Surgical Face Masks. Source Dis-Chem.

Clicks First Aid Surgical Mask, 2* units - R10.99 

Source Clicks.
Clicks First Aid Surgical Mask 1 unit . Source Clicks.

*unit was adjusted after Clicks verified they had incorrectly labelled their stock, on 4 March. 

High-end N95 masks: R999 for a box of 20 to R150 each.

Some retailers are also selling more sophisticated respiratory masks, for prices up to R150 per unit. 

In South Africa these masks, known as N95 masks, are used to prevent airborne diseases spread. These are important for doctors working with highly infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.

The "N95" designation means that when tested, the respirator blocks at least 95% of very small (0.3 micron) particles, such as airborne tuberculosis. If properly fitted, the filtration ability of a N95 respirator exceeds that of a face mask. However, even a properly fitted N95 respirator does not eliminate the risk of infection.

Jantjie Taljaard, head of the division for infectious diseases at the University of Stellenbosch’s Faculty of Medicines and Health Sciences, says N95 masks are only used in a hospital environment where procedures and treatment may cause droplets to aerosolise or break up into microdroplets. 

“The respirators fit very tightly and cannot, however, be used for long periods as it becomes very uncomfortable," said Taljaard. "So people tend to not keep N95 masks on for a long period, which then negates any potential benefit.

Increased demand for these masks, from a public that might not need them, only serves to put strain on a supply system with a current  six-month backlog in mask globally, says the World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease and Control, in the United Sates (US).

On Saturday, US vice President Mike Pence said at a press conference that there is no need for people in the US to buy and wear masks to protect themselves from the novel coronavirus. 

"Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of [the novel coronavirus] to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility)," states the CDC on their website. 

A spike in global demand for the product is outstripping manufacturers' abilities to produce the masks here and abroad, reports the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism. So much so that South African department of health spokesperson Popo Maja confirmed that South Africa is experiencing delays on shipments of respirator masks. There are also delays due to major mask-producing countries such as India and China banning exports of the protective gear to secure their own national supplies. South Africa's few local producers of the speciality masks cannot immediately supply increased numbers of the masks, Maja warns. 

The recommendation for N95 masks, or their similarly categorised FFP2 masks, should be reserved for healthcare workers treating coronavirus patients.

N95 masks are available on Takealot: 

Dromex QSA 2021 - FFP2 Masks (Valved) - Disposable Respirator (Box of 12) - R 1 200

3M - Dust Masks / Safety Mask - FFP2 (20 Masks per Box) - R 2 000

 Source Takealot.
3M - Dust Masks / Safety Mask. Source Takealot.

Dromex FFP2 Mask - 2000 Series Moulded - Box of 20 - R 1 500

Pinnacle FFP2V Dust Mask with Valve - SABS Approved - Box of 20 – R999

Dura Mask - N95 Safety / Dust Face Mask - NIOSH Approved (20 Masks) - R 3 000

Benehal - N95 Safety/Dust Face Mask with Valve - NIOSH Approved (15 Masks) - R 2 250

 Source Takealot.
Benehal - N95 Safety/Dust Face Mask with valve . Source Takealot.

*Clicks does not stock N95 masks.

Instead of buying a mask, it is better to be hygienic, says WHO. 

Wearing of masks in a public environment is encouraged by the World Health Organization (WHO) if you are sick.

It recommends other good hygiene practices, like regularly washing your hands, coughing or sneezing into tissues or the bend of your elbow, and cleaning keyboards with disinfectant.

Evidence suggests asymptomatic patients are contagious, unlike SARS and Ebola, where all the contacts reported were patients who had symptoms.

More on office hygiene - here.

More on hand hygiene - here 

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