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February 7, 2020 4:14 pm
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Coronavirus in Israel? Not Yet, but Mask Sales Still Surge

avatar by Lauren Izso

A surgical mask. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

An Israeli company says it has sold 20,000 protective face masks within a few days, as the coronavirus threat continues to loom, even though there haven’t been any confirmed cases in the Jewish state.

Magen Optic, an Israeli distributor of personal protective equipment and emergency response products, told The Marker that it usually only sold roughly a few hundred masks per month.

The disease which broke out in Wuhan, China, just over a month ago has so far killed 600 and infected 30,000 across 26 countries, including the US, Russia, Japan, Thailand and South Korea, among others. But, the large majority of those infected have been contained within China, as the city of Wuhan is on lockdown.

Still, around the world countries including Israel are taking extra precautions in protecting their citizens from the respiratory disease, also known as 2019-nCoV, with actions such as cancelling direct flights to and from China. 

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There are currently at least 14 Israelis being quarantined on a cruise ship in Japan, but thus far aside from a few scares, there have been no cases detected in Israel. Israel’s Interior Ministry has barred entry to all non-citizens who have visited China in the two weeks prior to their arrival. The Foreign Ministry has warned Israelis against traveling to China and urged all Israelis already there to consider leaving.

Amazon said it sold roughly 24 million protective masks to customers around the world, selling out as of January 21, and sold its entire stock of hazmat suits as of February 5. Online retailer Alibaba has also sold out of protective masks, following the discovery of more than eighty third-party retailers selling unsafe counterfeit products. Now, the panic is leading people to local retailers to protect themselves.

Magen Optic, based in Rishon Lezion, said that its sales have skyrocketed.

Noa Magen, vice president of operations at Magen Optic, said the company’s products were mainly intended for industrial laboratories and factories, “but in recent days the phone has not stopped ringing, and there is a huge demand,” according to The Marker.

Magen said that while the disease had not entered Israel yet, there was paranoia among travelers.

“A lot of people that want to travel overseas are worried,” she noted. “They’re buying masks not just for themselves but also for family members and friends who live in places where supplies have run out.”

There has also been a problem with counterfeit masks or those which do not meet the proper safety standards. According to Israel’s two biggest pharmacy chains Superpharm and Be, there has been a massive surge in protective mask sales, and inventory has run out at several stores. 

Magen warned that regular masks available at pharmacies did not guarantee full protection from exposure to viruses.

“These are masks that keep those who wear them will not contaminate others with their breath, but they do not protect against external infections,” Magen explained.

While Israelis are being extra cautious, in China the demand is much more urgent, and a shortage of equipment could lead to the disease spreading even further. The Israel Chamber of Commerce in China (IsCham), together with the Israeli-Chinese equity fund Innovation, said they sent 100,000 masks, gowns and gloves to China, donated by Israel hospitals and companies

“We received appeals from Chinese officials over the shortage of protective masks and we mobilized all our resources to help them,” said Israel manager for IsCham, Tslil Kleiman.

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