‘Which outlet has stock?’: Furious netizens are slamming Watsons, Guardian and NTUC for posting about surgical mask stocks, claiming stores have totally run out

Pharmacies and supermarkets were inundated with furious comments on social media from empty-handed buyers who said they had queued at multiple stores and were unable to purchase any masks.
Facebook/林杰森, Facebook/Patrick Wong

This article was updated on Wednesday (Jan 29).

  • Guardian, Watsons and NTUC Fairprice have reduced the number of surgical masks each customer can buy in response to dwindling stocks.

  • Angry netizens left hundreds of comments on the brands’ pages on Tuesday (Jan 28), accusing them of having zero stocks across multiple outlets despite posting updates about buying limits.

  • Many said shop staff did not know when new stocks would arrive.

  • Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min posted a photo of Singapore’s mask stockpiles later that day, assuring netizens there was a “sufficient supply of masks” if people used them “sensibly and responsibly.”

As Singapore raises its nationwide pandemic alert from green to yellow in light of the Wuhan coronavirus, shoppers are facing another crisis at healthcare stores across the country: the stores seem to have run out of surgical masks.

Medical experts have said that wearing these masks in public can help guard against the virus.

Read also: Face masks aren’t a very effective way to prevent the spread of coronavirus, experts say, despite spiking sales

Last week, local media reported spiking sales of surgical masks as anxious Singaporeans and Chinese nationals returning to the mainland – where there is an ongoing mask shortage – swept shops clean, leading National Development Minister Lawrence Wong to say on Facebook that the Republic had “plenty” of these masks” and there was “no need (for citizens) to stock up or panic buy”.

“We have been pushing stocks to the retailers, and they are progressively restocking their shelves. We are monitoring the situation closely, including the inventories of the retailers, and will ensure there is ample supply to meet demand,” the minister said.

<Face Masks>I want to assure everyone that Singapore has plenty of surgical face masks (the medical experts advise…

Posted by Lawrence Wong on Friday, 24 January 2020

Searches of surgical masks from Singapore on Google have spiked five times, with e-commerce site Shopee reporting that sales of surgical masks on its platform surged 15 times compared with average sales volumes before.

Last week, brands selling the masks – such as NTUC (which owns FairPrice supermarket and Unity pharmacy), Guardian and Watsons – announced on Facebook that they were imposing a limit on the number of masks each customer could buy to ensure sufficient stocks for all households.

The limits were: 10 masks (Guardian), 20 masks (NTUC) and 50 masks (Watsons).

PSA ⚠️: We would like to assure customers that face masks will continue to be made available in our stores despite the…

Posted by NTUC FairPrice on Friday, 24 January 2020

Following the high demand of masks in our stores, we have been working very closely with our suppliers to arrange for…

Posted by Guardian Singapore on Saturday, 25 January 2020

Update: there will be a purchase limit of 50pcs of mask per customers. As highlighted previously, we strongly urge…

Posted by Watsons on Saturday, 25 January 2020

Watsons said in a post on Sunday (Jan 26): “Due to the logistical situation, it is hard for us to advise or guarantee which store will still have stocks. We hate to say this to cause further panic, but it is currently a while-stocks-last situation.”

Watsons and NTUC Fairprice both said they are expecting new stocks the following week.

But on Tuesday (Jan 28), both brands further reduced the number of masks each customer could buy, with NTUC FairPrice imposing new limits on the purchase of of hand sanitiser bottles and thermometers. Guardian did not post an update.

Purchase limits update: We have extended the limit of purchase of face masks to include hand sanitisers and thermometers…

Posted by NTUC FairPrice on Monday, 27 January 2020

Due to the surge in demand for masks, we will be amending the quantity of masks each customers can purchase to ensure…

Posted by Watsons on Monday, 27 January 2020

A quick check by Business Insider revealed surgical masks were sold out at the Watsons and Guardian stores at The Star Vista mall at noon on Tuesday (Jan 28). Staff did not know when new stocks would arrive. Masks were also sold out on the three brands’ online stores.

Business Insider understands that masks also ran out at pharmacies in three healthcare institutions: Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Changi General Hospital, and the National University Hospital.

Read also: Here are the symptoms of the deadly Wuhan coronavirus and when you should be worried

Following their posts, the brands were quickly inundated with hundreds of furious comments on social media from empty-handed buyers who said they had made trips to multiple stores and were unable to purchase any masks, with staff having “no clue” when new stocks would arrive.

Many also demanded the brands identify which of their outlets still carried the masks, listing a bevy of locations that had already run out.

Accompanying the comments were photos of empty shelves and snaking queues of people waiting for masks to be restocked in stores.

Posted by Ah Wong San on Monday, 27 January 2020

Posted by Cindy Wong on Monday, 27 January 2020

Facebook user Maggie Low wrote: “Queued at (Watsons) Tiong Bahru Plaza outlet this morning at 9.30 am (Tuesday, Jan 28) and your staff told the crowd that no stock today at 9.55am. When we asked when the stock would be coming in, answer was “not sure”… so where did your stock go?”

Another user named Wong Jingru said she went to the Guardian outlet at AMK Hub at 9.20am and had confirmed with a staff member that masks were available, but there were no masks when the store opened at 10am.

Staff then claimed stocks would only arrive at around noon, and subsequently informed waiting customers that the stocks would not arrive after all.

“Now we have queued for hours and are stranded here with no masks!” wrote another commenter, Emileen Tan.

Housewife Angela Yang, 53, told Business Insider she managed to find a box of Guangzhou-made surgical masks at Prime supermarket in Bedok after combing various pharmacies, but decided not to buy them after reading a WeChat article about fake masks circulating in China.

She said: “I don’t understand how the minister can assure us there are adequate masks. They’re sold out everywhere.

“I want to see him going to check Watsons and Guardian himself.”

Read also: Sold-out Amazon sellers warn shoppers about counterfeit face masks as demand soars amid coronavirus fears

On Tuesday night, Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said on Facebook that he had visited a warehouse containing Singapore’s mask stockpiles with NTUC FairPrice CEO Seah Kian Peng.

In the post, he assured netizens that there was a “sufficient supply of masks in Singapore” if people used them “sensibly and responsibly.”

“There is no need to rush to buy masks. We are working with retailers like NTUC FairPrice and Unity Pharmacy to push out the stocks,” the minister wrote.

“You may have noticed that some retailers have started to ration the sale of masks (in packages with smaller quantity). This is to ensure that there is adequate supply for Singaporeans and to prevent unnecessary hoarding. We are also working with retailers to manage pricing and we remind them not to profiteer from the increased demand.”

“As there is currently no local transmission of the 2019-nCoV infection, masks are generally not needed in our normal daily activities,” he added. “However, do put on a face mask if you have respiratory symptoms like a cough or runny nose to prevent the spread of the flu or the common cold viruses.”

Earlier today, I joined Seah Kian Peng to visit one of our warehouses to check on our masks stockpile. We would like…

Posted by Lam Pin Min(蓝彬明) on Tuesday, 28 January 2020