Stores run out of face masks as Taal Volcano ash spreads to Calabarzon, Metro Manila

SOLD OUT. Supplies of face masks have started to run out in some stores in Metro Manila and nearby provinces. Photo by Analette Abesamis

SOLD OUT. Supplies of face masks have started to run out in some stores in Metro Manila and nearby provinces.

Photo by Analette Abesamis

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Supplies of face masks ran out in many stores in Metro Manila and nearby provinces in the south as Taal Volcano in Batangas continued to spew ash on Sunday night, January 12.

According to a staff member of Ace Hardware at SM Light branch in Mandaluyong City, their supply of face masks were sold out around 7 pm Sunday.

“In a matter of 15 to 30 minutes, wala na pong stock. Hanggang ngayon marami pa po naghahanap. Hindi pa po namin alam kung kailan magkakaroon ng stock,” he said said. (In a matter of 15 to 30 minutes, face masks were out of stock. Until now, many people are still buying. We can't tell when we will have stocks again.)

The same situation was also reported in some branches of Mercury Drug and Watsons in Pasig and Manila. 

Meanwhile, as of 8 pm, face masks in some drugstores in Cavite were already out of stock. 

“Papalapit ka pa lang, sumisigaw na ang guard ng wala na pong face masks! Wala na pong face masks!,” a Rappler staff said. (As you approach the stores, you could hear the guards shouting, No face masks left! No face masks left!”)

On Sunday evening, the Department of Health (DOH), in a statement, warned of potential health effects as ashfall from the Taal Volcano reached Calabarzon and Metro Manila. (READ: How to stay safe during volcanic ashfall)

The DOH also told the public to be vigilant about conditions that may arise after exposure to volcanic ash:

It also reminded people to seek immediate medical help should such conditions arise.

The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs) raised Alert Level 4 for the Taal Volcano in Batangas on Sunday evening, January 12, warning that a "hazardous" eruption may occur "within hours to days." (READ: 'Hazardous' Taal Volcano eruption possible 'within hours to days')

How to protect yourself

Since avoiding outdoors is unrealistic, wearing masks is the next best way to protect against volcanic ashfall.

But not every mask is enough to protect one's lungs from pollutants. Surgical masks in particular offer little or no protection against particulate and smoke inhlation.

While they are easy to find and affordable, surgical masks expose most of your mouth and nose on the sides to pollution. It is advised to use N95 masks

N95 is a rating by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of protective masks. This means that the mask protects against 95% of airborne particles but not resistant to oil fumes. It is also the easiest respirator mask to find in the Philippines.

Overpriced masks 

On Monday, January 13, while there were reports of face masks shortage, irate Filipinos took to social media to express frustration over people taking advantage of the situation.

N95 filter masks usually cost only P25 to P30, but some were selling these for as high as P200. 

We monitored people who apparently bought face masks in bulk on Sunday and were selling them at steep prices on online platforms. 

The Manila city government began a crackdown on stores allegedly engaging in this practice. (READ: Manila begins crackdown vs stores 'overpricing' N95 face masks)

Meanwhile, Gang Capati appealed to the government to hand out free N95 masks to people affected by the volcanic ashfall. 

“Philippine Government, seriously we should be handing out N95 face masks for citizens. Kawawa 'yung hindi maka-afford ng mask (It’s unfortunate for those who can’t afford to buy a face mask). Supply's super low. Palace coordinate with DOH /NDRRMC/DSWD via LGU, Mayors, flow down til barangay level. There exists an emergency response budget,” Capati tweeted. – Rappler.com