Coronavirus fears impact surgical mask supplies — and potentially tourism — in Kingston

Since COVID-19 broke out late in 2019, surgical masks have been in high demand in Kingston.

Pharmacist Ladan Valaei says she ran out of surgical masks shortly after the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus a public health emergency in December.

“I would say I had a good supply, but I finished it I would say in two weeks after the news about the coronavirus had been released,” Valaei said.

Since then, she says, it’s been next to impossible to obtain more.

“The suppliers now they say you can just get two boxes of surgical masks per each pharmacy and honestly I haven’t received anything,” she said.

That seems to be the case with a number of pharmacies in the Kingston region.

Global Kingston called a dozen drugstores in the municipality, all of which reported they were out of surgical masks and weren’t sure when they would get more.

Demand isn’t showing any signs of letting up, either, Valaei says.

“Many customers came to me and they left their name and numbers just in case I get any,” she said.

Valaei says she is also experiencing a shortage in hand disinfectants as well.

“It is recommended to wash your hands with alcohol-based liquids or gel,” Valaei said, adding soap and water will work just as well as the disinfectants.

Tourism operators are also keeping a close eye on the COVID-19 outbreak.

Tourism Kingston’s Abigail Hellier says she’s been talking with tourist bus operators in Markham region.

“They are getting a couple of cancellations for near-future bookings,” Hellier said. “They haven’t seen anything long-term later into this year or next year.”

Based on numbers, however, the impact to tourism in the Kingston area will likely be limited.

Of Tourism Kingston’s recorded 2.6 million visits to the area in 2018, only 18,667 were from China.

The potential downturn in visitors from China has led Tourism Kingston to change their tactics for the 2020 season.

Hellier says they are maintaining their social media presence in China but some money — roughly $30,000 — is being targeted to other tourism markets.

“We are going to defer our marketing plan just for right now in the Chinese market and instead move those dollars so we can leverage more local markets.”

Hellier says Tourism Kingston is in regular contact with the Crown corporation Destination Canada.

She says the expectation is that any impact to tourism this time will be similar to what happened during the SARS crisis of 2003.

“They did see a slump within one season and then really dramatic pick up in the following years,” she said.

Which is potentially good news, because Hellier says tourism operators have identified Chinese tourists as a high-growth area in the coming years.

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