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Rush for sanitisers as Kenyans caught up in panic buying

By Fred Kagonye | March 14th 2020

Empty spaces for hand sanitisers after customers bought all that was on the shelves after the first coronavirus case was reported yesterday. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The confirmation of Kenya’s first COVID-19 case sent Kenyans into panic buying with hand sanitisers being the most bought items yesterday.

A spot check around most supermarkets in the Central Business District confirmed most outlets had run out of the commodity. 

At Tuskys, shoppers kept the attendants busy asking to be directed to the aisle where the sanitisers were stocked only to be told they had run out. 

Charles Wambua, a banker, who missed out on the item in Nairobi said he had bought some on Thursday only to find none when he went to get more yesterday morning after Health CS Mutahi Kagwe announced one patient had tested positive for the virus.

An attendant at the supermarket said the sanitisers were off the shelves in a matter of minutes but added that they had ordered for more from their suppliers. 

Most pharmacies around the CBD had also run out of sanitisers. Most of the shoppers we talked to were forced to buy hand wash which might not be practical at a time when everyone is taking extra caution due to the virus scare.

“I have bought the last piece at Savannah Healthcare Pharmacy along Kenyatta Avenue at Sh 1,000 for a 500ml but it is understandable this is the most precious item at the moment,” said a shopper.

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Another shopper who had checked almost all supermarkets in the CBD joked that Kenyans might have to carry soap and water in their bags to use instead of sanitisers.

“We might have more supplies tomorrow but what I am sure of is that the price will go up because of the high demand,” said a pharmacist in a chemist along Moi Avenue in Nairobi.

Along Dubois Road, the largest market for makeup and beauty products in Nairobi, a 150ml bottle was selling at Sh1,000 while a 50-piece pack of masks was being sold at Sh 3,500. Most of the sellers have doubled or tripled the prices due to the high demand. 

“Our supplier was selling a 500ml bottle at Sh200 before but now the price has gone up to Sh 600,” said a seller. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, sales of hand sanitisers have soared. It’s become such a sought-after product that pharmacies and supermarkets have started limiting the number that people can buy at one time.

As with other viral respiratory infections – like the common cold and flu – the novel coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) is mainly spread when virus-laden droplets from a person’s mouth or nose are transferred to other people. However, a recent study has suggested that it can also spread through faeces.

Aside from inhaling droplets, you can also get respiratory viruses including SARS-CoV-2 by touching anything contaminated with the virus and then touching your face, in particular your mouth or nose. We touch our faces a lot without even realising it. A study from New South Wales found that people touch their faces about 23 times an hour.

Washing with warm water and soap remains the gold standard for hand hygiene and preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Washing with warm water (not cold water) and soap removes oils from our hands that can harbour microbes.

But hand sanitisers can also protect against disease-causing microbes, especially in situations when soap and water aren’t available. They’re also proven to be effective in reducing the number and type of microbes. 

There are two main types of hand sanitisers: alcohol-based and alcohol-free. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers contain varying amounts and types of alcohol, often between 60 per cent and 95 per cent and usually isopropyl alcohol, ethanol (ethyl alcohol) or n-propanol. Alcohol is known to be able to kill most germs.

Alcohol-free hand sanitisers contain something called quarternary ammonium compounds (usually benzalkonium chloride) instead of alcohol. These can reduce microbes but are less effective than alcohol.

Not only are alcohol-based hand sanitisers found to be effective at killing many types of bacteria, including MRSA and E coli, they’re also effective against many viruses, including the influenza A virus, rhinovirus, hepatitis A virus, HIV, and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

Alcohol attacks and destroys the envelope protein that surrounds some viruses, including coronaviruses. This protein is vital for a virus’s survival and multiplication.

But a hand sanitiser needs to be at least 60 per cent alcohol in order to kill most viruses.

Hand sanitisers with less than 60 per cent alcohol were also found to be less effective at killing bacteria and fungi and may only reduce the growth of germs rather than killing them outright.  

Covid 19 Time Series


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