As the number of COVID-19 infections in Australia reaches 33, we take a look at pharmacy’s role in handling the outbreak around the world
In Wuhan itself, pharmacy staff are working from early morning to late at night to meet the demand for medicines, reports ECNS.cn.
China has implemented measures to ensure people who are not infected with COVID-19 can still access their medicines, appointing the Hankou pharmacy chain as the designated pharmacy group to supply medicines for chronic, serious diseases in Wuhan.
Currently community workers are collecting these medicines at pharmacies and then distributing them amongst the community.
In the UK, the NHS has told community pharmacies that they should ensure their premises have an “isolation space” where they should put people who are suspected of having the novel coronavirus.
The new Standard Operating Procedure points out that most patients who go to community pharmacies will probably not have COVID-19, and that if there are cold-like symptoms but not relevant travel or contact history, pharmacies should simply proceed in line with best practice and routine management of the cross-infection risks to staff/patients.
A possible case of COVID-19 needs to meet both the clinical symptoms and a relevant travel or contact history.
The NHS advised that the default SOP is to advise a patient with suspected COVID-19 to return home immediately and call NHS 111, but if they are too unwell to do so, “should be invited into the designated isolation space, along with any accompanying family/representative, away from other patients and staff” where they should then contact the NHS.
In the United States, the Surgeon-General, Jerome M. Adams, had a message for Americans seeking to stock up on face masks: don’t do it.
Seriously people- STOP BUYING MASKS!
They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!
— U.S. Surgeon General (@Surgeon_General) February 29, 2020
Also in the US, WTMJ-TV Milwaukee reports that a Wisconsin couple will be separated for months thanks to the virus: local pharmacist Kevin Xing remains in the US while his wife is quarantined in China.
Mr Xing, who is a clinical pharmacist at Hayat Pharmacy in Milwaukee, said that his wife is stuck in Sichuan, unable to reapply for her now-expired work visa until April or May.
However he said that China’s response to the crisis is understandable, and the need to prepare for an outbreak in Wisconsin.
In Vancouver Island, Canada, pharmacist Kris Verma told CTV News viewers how they could prepare for a potential pandemic: put together a “COVID-19 kit” in case they need to self-isolate.
But putting together such a kit of masks, hand sanitiser, cleaning supplies and any medicines a patient already takes would be mostly “just for prevention and for peace of mind”.
In Ireland, the Sun told of “pharmacy panic” and spoke to staff at the Leonard’s Corner Pharmacy in Dublin, where staff have implemented a waiting list for hand sanitisers and masks.
“There are 35-40 people currently on the waiting list for protective masks,” one staff member said.
“They come in large boxes and cost around €50 (AUD$85) for 50 masks. The suppliers have tripled the prices. If it’s not every person asking, it’s every second person looking for them.”
The Manila Times reports that Philippine community pharmacies are playing a key role in helping contain the coronavirus outbreak.
“Community pharmacists serve as the first point of contact for those with health-related concerns or simply in need of reliable information and advice,” wrote Teresa May Bandiola, a pharmacist, pharmacy journalist and university pharmacy instructor.
She highlighted to readers that pharmacists are advising on measures such as hygiene, cough etiquette and good food safety measures.
“This generous and well-explained information by pharmacists may avoid the spread of fake and exaggerated news that can lead to unnecessary panic or mass hysteria,” she wrote.
They can also point out to the general public that antibiotics do not work against COVID-19, she noted.