Fears of a potential spread of the deadly Coronavirus are beginning to mount. People, even as far as rural Chile, have begun stocking up to prevent contracting the deadly flu-like disease which has left millions quarantined and tens of thousands infected worldwide.
This morning, I went to my nearest major town to try to buy some facemasks as I will be flying early next week.
In my naivety, I thought it would be fairly easy to pick up a pack or two–just in case.
However, I spent half the morning, visiting every single pharmacy in town (there are several), various health stores of all descriptions, and a few pennysaver equivalents, but to no avail.
Facemasks had been sold out everywhere; in a town of 35,000 people, 3 hours south of the capital.
Luckily, it did occur to me to check one place which may have been overlooked by more cautious consumers: the hardware store.
I managed to pick up a couple of boxes of steeply priced surgical facemasks–often used for loggers when sawing or sanding down wood–for around $28 per hundred.
My wife and I were shocked by how incredibly difficult it was to find any masks in such a small rural town.
Our town is deemed, by the relatively limited number of tourists who come to enjoy the stunning local scenery and tipple, to be a little dustbowl in the middle of the wine-growing region.
Many residents are wholly disconnected–by choice–from the outside world, with many rarely venturing further than the next town.
One retailer told us that his facemasks had been sold out following a flurry of demand, and that rumors of price gouging in the capital, Santiago, had already arisen.
In Wuhan, there had been reports of unscrupulous hustlers selling used facemasks after ironing them to create the illusion of freshness.
Reports also claimed that these unsanitary masks were sometimes flogged for as much as $50 each.
As it stands, there have not been any confirmed cases of the COVID-19 Coronavirus in Chile. But, a case in Brazil was reported to have been the continent’s first.