Since Monday a total of 12 people have tested positive to the virus and the number is expected to rise as widespread testing is carried out on people already admitted into hospital with flu-like symptoms.
The news has sparked alarm and caused panic buying of protective face masks and disinfectant hand gel as people prepare to protect themselves and reduce the risk of contracting the virus.
Pharmacies across Spain have reported selling out of masks, while prices online have skyrocketed from the usual €3-€5 to more than €300 for a packet of five.
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The rush on masks started in January with Chinese residents buying up stocks to send to family back home.
“Many Chinese residents as well as tourists in Spain bought most of our stocks, the last one we sold was about two weeks ago,” Pharmacist Clara Largo Villanueva, from the Farmacia Madrid Internacional told The Local.”
“Initially we had people buying several boxes of FFP2 masks, but we then had to ration it up to three boxes of five masks per person as we saw we were running out,” she said.
“We ran out of FFP2 made by 3M and even the FFP1 by a local brand, the latter is actually useless against the virus. 3M stocks have run out at both the distributor and factory levels; therefore, they need to be produced and distributed and that will take a while. I’ve no idea when we will have new stocks, same goes for hand gel too.”
As a pharmacist she insisted that the new coronavirus was no real cause for alarm.
“I am not worried about the coronavirus more than I am about the common flu, which seems to have a higher mortality rate, and see no need to use the mask in either types,” she said.
“People in good health shouldn’t really need these masks anyway and should wash their hands thoroughly at home, which is just as effective as hand gel. Only people who have a serious pre-existing illness, like cancer, respiratory problems or have a compromised immune system should be careful,” the pharmacist said.
Fernando Simón, the director of health emergency in Spain gave a press conference insisting that the coronavirus posed very low risk to the general population and that there was no need to adopt “useless measures” such as wearing masks.
Es importante que la población sea consciente de los riesgos reales del #CoronavirusEsp.➡No hay que adoptar mecanismos de protección innecesarios, como por ejemplo las mascarillas.
El riesgo de infección en España es moderado, nulo en las zonas donde no hay casos identificados. pic.twitter.com/ADMkpjbehy
— Salud Pública (@SaludPublicaEs) February 26, 2020
But despite health authorities insisting that a mask is only useful if you're already ill, or if you're a health professional assisting people who are ill, people are still desperate to get their hands on one.
A hospital in Madrid has reported the theft of hundreds of surgical masks from a storeroom while in Malaga a doctor is facing charges after he was discovered stealing boxes of them to sell on the black market.
So what should you do to keep safe?
Rather than worry about a mask, authorities in Spain are repeating the message issued by the WHO and other health authorities in countries where the virus is prevalent.
The advice is much the same as that issued during flu season and involves taking a few basic precautions.
You should take the same precautions in Spain that you would anywhere else:
- Wash hands thoroughly and often with soap and water, especially after coughing and sneezing or before eating.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
- Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of respiratory illness.
- Wear a mask if you suspect you are ill, or if you are assisting someone else who is ill.
- Clean off surfaces with alcohol- or chlorine-based disinfectants.
People are also advised not to take any antibiotics or antiviral medication unless they have been prescribed by a doctor.
?? lávate las manos frecuentemente con jabón
? cubre boca y nariz al toser con el antebrazo
? usa pañuelos desechables pic.twitter.com/OPia2vjFT6
— Plan Antibióticos (@PRANgob) February 25, 2020
?Al llegar de un viaje de una zona de riesgo, ¿qué debes hacer?
? Sin síntomas: https://t.co/rCn2uW7gkF
— Ministerio de Sanidad (@sanidadgob) February 26, 2020
What restrictions are in place in Spain?
None, unless you happen to be a guest in the H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel in Tenerife, which is currently under lockdown after four Italian guests tested positive to the virus.
However, Spain’s health authorities have advised against travel in northern Italy and sought to identify other potential cases that may have slipped under the radar by testing those already in hospital with respiratory problems or returning from high risk areas with flu-like symptoms.
They are telling people who have returned from a zone where there is a coronavirus outbreak, such as China, northern Italy, Iran and South Korea, to immediately contact emergency health services by telephone if they show symptoms that include a fever, cough or shortness of breath.
Those who appear healthy can go about their lives normally.