Surgical masks selling out in Toronto, Vancouver

News of the Wuhan coronavirus appears to be inspiring travellers in Canada to take extra precautions. This weekend, Canada confirmed its first case. The patient, a 50-year-old man, had recently travelled to Wuhan before flying back to Toronto. He is reported to be in stable condition. His wife was confirmed as the second presumptive case in Canada on Monday afternoon.

According to Ontario’s public health website, a further 19 people are currently under investigation in the province.

In Vancouver and Toronto, where there are a high number of direct flights to China, many pharmacies can’t keep up with the demand for N95 and surgical masks.


The masks, which are made of paper or other non-woven materials, are secured around a person’s ear to cover the mouth. They’re meant to reduce the spread of a virus through droplets by way of sneezing or coughing. Many doctor offices require patients to wear them if they are exhibiting signs of a flu or cold.

Stephen Hoption Cann is an epidemiologist in the school of population and public health at the University of British Columbia. He describes the masks as “not highly efficient.” And despite the recent cases, Canada has a system in place to contain any type of outbreak. Still, Hoption Cann says there is no harm in taking the same steps you would when avoiding the flu. 

“If you want to protect yourself from the coronavirus...regularly wash your hands and if you’re out in public and you touch surfaces, keep your hands away from your face,” he tells Yahoo Canada

Passengers who have arrived from the Chinese city of Sanya at Valery Chkalov Strigino International Airport. Mikhail Solunin/TASS (Photo by Mikhail Solunin\TASS via Getty Images)

If you want to be extra heedful, be mindful when touching doorknobs and light switches or any other surfaces that can be contaminated. Use a paper towel to turn off taps and when flushing a toilet. Avoid public gatherings and distance yourself from anyone who is currently sick. 

Hoption Canns says if wearing a mask manages to keep your hands out of your nose and mouth, then there’s no harm in it.

“It’s not foolproof but if you feel more comfortable, that’s fine too.”

It’s not uncommon to see surgical masks as a trend in many Asian countries. On a recent season of Netflix’s Queer Eye, which was filmed in Japan, comedian Naomi Watanabe broke down some of the reasons Japanese people often wear these masks. These included being sick, wanting to avoid being sick, allergies, being famous and wanting to hide, and staying warm.