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Demand for face masks on the rise amid coronavirus outbreak — but are they effective?

Surgical face mask sales in China jumped this week amid a deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Officials in the country urged the public to wear masks in a bid to prevent the virus — which has been detected in several countries, including the U.S. — from spreading.

People lined up to buy face masks, with many pharmacies having to limit sales to one package per customer.

All residents in the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak was first detected, have been ordered to wear masks in public places, government staff have been urged to wear them at work and shopkeepers were told to post signs for their visitors.

Photos from the city’s transport stations, which were closed on Thursday, showed virtually everyone wearing face masks.

Fears that the virus, which has not been detected in Canada, would spread has also prompted higher sales of masks at some pharmacies in B.C., which is relatively close to the first confirmed U.S. case in Seattle.

Several Metro Vancouver pharmacies contacted by Global News this week said they are flying off the shelves.

One pharmacy located in Burnaby, B.C. saw a new shipment sell out within hours. Another in nearby New Westminster said the demand has been so high that manufacturers aren’t able to fill orders.

But how much can face masks actually protect individuals against the spread of viruses?

Eleanor Fish, an immunology professor at the University of Toronto, explained there are two kinds of masks being used. The first is a traditional surgical mask and the other is called N95, which is made of thicker material and sits more tightly on the face.

“There’s an opportunity for something to come with in areas where it’s not tightly fitted, through your nose or neck.”

The major advantage of surgical masks, however, is that they prevent large droplets from coming in contact with parts of the face, Fish said.

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