Coronavirus: Thousands queue up for limited supply of face masks

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People began lining up outside of Watsons branches as early as 2am

Nicola Chan |
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In a Watsons store, masks are sold out. The demand of masks rockets in the midst of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

Thousands queued for face masks at Watsons branches across the city yesterday morning, as supplies run out amid the coronavirus outbreak, according to local media reports. 

The local health and beauty chain announced on its official Facebook page on Wednesday that a small quantity of masks and other hygiene products would be available at 230 of its stores the next day. 

A timeline of the Wuhan coronavirus

But at 1am yesterday, it said only 1,000 masks altogether would be available at each of the branches, and that quota tags would be distributed to customers to prevent people from buying and hoarding too many. Each box contained 50 masks and only the first 20 people in the queue were able to buy them.

By 7am yesterday, hundreds lined outside Watsons stores in many districts including Sai Wan, Aberdeen, Tai Po, Tin Shui Wai and Tsuen Wan. Many people were unaware that the supplies were limited. 

According to RTHK, a buyer arrived at the Watsons store at T Town shopping mall, in Tin Shui Wai, as early as 2am, seven and a half hours before it opened. 

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The woman, who was the first person in the queue, said there were no masks at home, and that she was relieved when she finally received a quota tag. She urged the government to increase the supply of masks. 

A number of customers, including those at the Tin Shui Wai branch, became angry and abusive after realising that they had been waiting in vain, Apply Daily reported. This led to staff pulling down the storefront gate. A few agitated middle-aged and elderly men were seen kicking the gate and shouting abuse at staff members who called the police. No one was arrested. 

At 11am yesterday, Watsons announced on its Facebook page that all quota tags had been distributed, and that the next batch of masks would be available within the next two weeks.   

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