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Queues at Hong Kong pharmacies

Queues formed outside pharmacies in Hong Kong yesterday as residents, spurred by memories of the deadly SARS virus, stocked up on medical supplies to counter any potential swine flu outbreak.
While there have been no reported cases of the latest swine flu strain in Hong Kong, housewives and domestic helpers were taking no chances and joined the scramble for face masks and anti-flu drugs.
FM Dispensary in the Wanchai district had around 25 people waiting outside. Shopkeeper Rene Chow said he had five times more customers than usual asking for face masks.
"We ordered 1,000 more face masks yesterday and 1,000 more today to cope with the sudden surge in demand. But the stock was gone within hours of them arriving," he told AFP.
Chow said local mask manufacturers said they would not be able to supply any more stock until May 10. Shoppers were also stocking up on disinfectant.
Several other pharmacies in the area had sold out of face masks.
The experience of SARS, which left close to 300 people dead in Hong Kong after arriving in the city in 2003, meant residents wanted to be well-prepared.
"There was a time during SARS when all the stores ran out of face masks. Hong Kong people had to go on a panic search for face masks at that time and they certainly do not want to go through it once more," Chow said.
Anti-flu drugs were also running short at Hong Kong's private medical practices and dispensaries, although the government said it had large stockpiles, the South China Morning Post reported.
The likely death toll from swine flu in Mexico, the epicentre of the outbreak, has risen to 152, and the virus has now spread to Europe.
Hong Kong, which already has some of the toughest health security measures in the world, has stepped up its surveillance of visitors for signs of flu and made swine flu a "notifiable disease."
As a result, authorities can now quarantine anyone who has come into contact with a suspected patient.
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