The news of the first recorded case of coronavirus in Greece on Wednesday is likely to further increase the demand for surgical masks, which have already become an item in short supply in many parts of the country, experts say.
Severe shortages have been recorded in all major cities. “We have been out of surgical masks since last week,” Lia Ioannou, a pharmacist in Vrilissia, northern Athens, tells Greek Reporter.
“Most of our customers are asking for masks,” she says, “but we are unable to help them. We have asked suppliers to replenish our stocks, but they say they are unable to meet demand.”
“In their desperation, customers ask to be included on a waiting list for masks,” Ioannou adds.
Speaking earlier in the month, Constantinos Lourantos, the President of the the Athens Pharmaceutical Association, claimed that the shortage is mainly caused by Chinese nationals who buy huge quantities with the intention of shipping them to friends and relatives in China.
Other evidence suggests that the shortages are widespread in Greece. Pharmacies in the northern port city of Thessaloniki have been running out of face masks, Anna Sidiropoulou, the vice president of the Thessaloniki Pharmacists Association, told the Athens Macedonia News Agency.
She said that the shortages were the result of “unjustified panic” amongst the public.
Scientists warn that the masks are actually not as effective as people may think.
Apostolos Baltas, the President of the Panhellenic Pharmaceutical Association stresses that “masks are not a panacea.”
Most people do not know how to use them and the panic to buy surgical masks can exclude the very people who need them most, including not only hospital workers, but also some patient groups, he tells Greek daily Efimerida ton Syntakton.