Coronavirus fears: Rome sells out of face masks

Fear of Coronavirus sparks run on face masks at pharmacies in Rome.

Rome pharmacies have sold out of protective face masks amid a surge in demand due to concerns over the deadly Coronavirus, reports Italian news agency ANSA.

The scramble to buy masks has been driven largely by tourists and Italians preparing to leave for the airport, according to Federfarma, the Italian pharmacy owners federation.

The move has been described as a "psychosis", similar to the time of SARS when Rome's hand sanitisers sold out -  Federfarma Roma representative Laura Cesaroni told ANSA - "however the masks will be available again shortly, there are no stock problems."

Pharmacies in Rome sell out of face masks. Photo ANSA.

The run on face masks in the capital comes as Rome's Chinese community cancels its Lunar New Year celebrations out of solidarity with China, where the fatal virus originated at the start of 2020.

Passengers arriving into Fiumicino on the three weekly flights from Wuhon, the epicentre of the outbreak, are being segegrated from other travellers and channelled through a separate health corridor for special screening.

With more than 100 dead and thousands infected, the World Health Organization now says the global risk from the deadly virus is "high", admitting that it got it wrong in its previous assessment which described the risk as "moderate".

The Chinese government has imposed strict travel restrictions, locking down 20 cities and closing tourist sites in a desperate attempt to rein in the mysterious virus which scientists believe may have "jumped" from bats or snakes to humans.

Since the virus broke out it has spread to more than a dozen countries, from Japan to the US, with the first confirmed case reported in Germany on 28 January.

Cover photo Corriere della Sera