WATCH | Coronavirus: Panic buying sets in after SA confirms 7 cases

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Customers shop for hand sanitisers at a store in Johannesburg,  following the government announcement on March 5 of the first confirmed case in South Africa of COVID-19 caused by coronavirus. (Michele Spatari, AFP)
Customers shop for hand sanitisers at a store in Johannesburg, following the government announcement on March 5 of the first confirmed case in South Africa of COVID-19 caused by coronavirus. (Michele Spatari, AFP)

Retailers and pharmacies are battling to keep up with demand for hand sanitisers and surgical masks, as stock flies off the shelves amid increasing panic over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

News24 visited several pharmacies and retailers in the Cape Town CBD with some shelves already empty as a result of panic buying.

Golden Acre Pharmacy owner Akbar Rawoot said his outlet ran out of masks after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in South Africa. He has been unable to replenish his stock as his suppliers reported a stock-out of masks.

"We got some stock of hand sanitiser this weekend but we're almost out and our suppliers don't have more available," Rawoot added.

READ | 6 things to know about the coronavirus in SA

Barr's Pharmacy owner Shafiek Ferguson said he had managed to get a few 50ml bottles of hand sanitiser, adding that judging by what happened last week, they would be sold out by lunchtime on Monday.

He added his face masks were sold in one go.

'Very difficult to get'

"The moment it comes in, it goes out and hand sanitiser is very difficult to get. I get it in, word goes out, and it just flies off the shelf in a few minutes," said Ferguson.

"We try to keep a little bit for everyone, but you can't really limit people. They think the virus is here, they think it's not under control and they buy more than they need. We got in 20 boxes of 20 masks each just thinking we'll have them available, but one person bought everything."

Stock at bigger pharmacy groups like Clicks and Dischem is also dwindling with several shelves at these stories either empty or nearly there.

Clicks said it had seen an increase in sales of hygiene products, adding it was keeping its prices unchanged as several retailers have taken advantage of the coronavirus outbreak and stockouts to push up prices.

'Surge in demand'

"We are working hard to meet the surge in demand and are putting in place additional measures to ensure that shelves are restocked as quickly as possible," said Clicks chief commercial officer Rachel Wrigglesworth.

She added the company was putting additional measures in place to ensure staff and customers were protected.

"We will be placing trolley wipes and hand sanitisers at the front of stores and in the pharmacy for customers, increase the cleaning frequency of our stores, and encourage staff to wash hands more regularly."

Several pharmacy owners said they hoped sanity prevailed and people stopped buying more than they needed as this was adding to the pressure on stocks.

But Melenita Perez, a Capetonian who managed to get the last three bottles of hand sanitiser at one of the pharmacies, said she could not help but be extra vigilant as reports of thousands of deaths globally has her worried.

"I'm just stocking up because I'm very concerned about this coronavirus, and it's for me and my daughter. I have one for my desk at work, and for my daughter on primary school - one for her backpack and one for her sports bag."

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