Spanish surge in demand for masks amid COVID-19 panic
Filio Kontrafouri in Madrid

The fear of Covid-19 gripped Spain even before it started spreading in the country this week. The demand for masks last week, when Italy became the epicenter of the coronavirus in Europe, increased 8 percent, according to Spain's Federation of Pharmaceutical Distributors (Fedifar). 

Each day, Spanish pharmacies ordered 80,000 masks and received between 8,000 and 10,000. Spanish daily newspaper El Pais quoted a Fedifar spokesperson, saying there is no shortage of masks as companies continue to produce them. Although the spokesperson added: "No production can support a similar demand. Yet, many pharmacists say it's almost impossible for them to resupply their pharmacies."

The increase has been progressive since the first reports on the coronavirus started surfacing in China early last month. In the last week of January, demand for masks in Spain increased by 730 percent, leading to a price surge across the country. 

A pack of five surgical masks that cost an average of $6.90 in December, cost $10.20 in January. 

There has been a sharp rise in the price of surgical surgical masks in Madrid since December. /AP

There has been a sharp rise in the price of surgical surgical masks in Madrid since December. /AP

As masks have been becoming almost impossible to find in pharmacies, the Spanish have been turning to the internet and specifically to Amazon Spain. Online prices have been skyrocketing, reportedly reaching up to $1,096 for a single mask.

Yet, medical experts have been warning that surgical masks do not protect from catching the novel coronavirus. They can prevent someone already sick from spreading the virus by trapping liquid droplets, such as saliva droplets when someone sneezes or coughs. However, there are types of masks, such as type FPP2, that contain a filter capable of trapping smaller particles and can protect from Covid-19. This type is recommended by the Spanish Ministry of Health. 

Spain's health authorities recommend that people focus more on good hygiene habits, which are more effective at combating the virus, such as carefully washing their hands with soap and water. This is the same message pharmacists are giving people when they come looking for masks – wash your hands and use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, along with common sense.