TORONTO -- Toronto drug stores say they are selling out of surgical masks and hand sanitizer, despite experts saying the items will not help guard against the novel coronavirus.

Starkmans Health Care Depot near Bathurst Street and Davenport told CTV News Toronto that masks are flying off the shelves. Warehouse supervisor Pearson Fyffe added that the N95 respiratory mask, which is more effective at blocking viruses, is “most difficult to get a hold of.”

“As soon as it came, it went out the door,” he said.


On Tuesday morning, Starkmans store manager said he had 10 boxes of regular surgical masks and was expected to sell out in about an hour—and he isn’t the only one. According to the Ontario Pharmacists Association, other members have reported they are low in stock.

A customer in line to buy a couple boxes of the masks at Starkmans said this was her third attempt at making the purchase. While she said she isn’t concerned about the novel coronavirus, she is being “cautious.”

In two other stores in midtown Toronto, the shelves are bare, with no surgical masks or Purell in sight. A Shoppers Drug Mart near College Street and Ossington Avenue notified customers of the shortage using a paper sign posted on the window.

Masks sold out

“Masks are sold out. Sorry for the inconvenience,” the sign reads.

Surgical masks are becoming a common sight on Toronto streets, especially on public transportation, but experts say they will not protect people from the coronavirus.

Health officials believe the coronavirus, known as 2019-nCoV, is spread similarly to other respiratory illnesses—through droplets when someone sneezes or coughs. Masks purchased at a pharmacy are meant to help contain a virus from an already sick patient by preventing droplets from spreading.

Joe Cressy, Chair of the Toronto Board of Health, said that coronavirus is scary “because it’s new,” but that the city is prepared and there is no need for further preventative measures.

“Public health officials have advised us that there is no need to wear face masks. In fact, it doesn’t help. And so, what we would say is ‘listen, we know this is new and for many Torontonians this is scary, but we have a public health system in place to deal with communicable diseases for just this reason.”

Meanwhile, Toronto’s Medical Officer has said that the risk to other Torontonians “remains low.”


Toronto Public Health has set up a hotline for people who were on the same flight as the man diagnosed with 2019-nCoV at Sunnybrook Hospital where travellers can ask questions. Other members of the public will also be able to also be able to get information about the illness from the hotline.

“I want to remind residents that the best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to this virus with prevention measures including wash your hands frequently, covering your cough or sneeze and staying home if you are ill.”

More than 4,500 people around the world have been diagnosed with 2019-nCoV and more than 100 people have died in China, where the virus originated.

With files from CTV News Toronto’s Janice Golding