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Coronavirus: Our hunt for hand sanitiser across Belfast

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Mark Bain on the hunt for hand sanitiser in Belfast  (Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Mark Bain on the hunt for hand sanitiser in Belfast (Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Paul McKenna

Paul McKenna

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Jarlath McCarthy

Jarlath McCarthy

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Nicola McKevitt

Nicola McKevitt

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Hand sanitiser

Hand sanitiser

Mark Bain on the hunt for hand sanitiser in Belfast (Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph)

Five hours around Belfast, north, south, east and west, and a quest to find anti-bacterial hand sanitiser drew a blank with every last bottle snapped up amid fears of the spread of coronavirus.

It looks like anyone who could has heeded the health warnings about washing hands as often as possible, but for those still looking for the right product, they might as well join the hunt for Lord Lucan. There's nothing to be found.

Not a single pharmacy had any in stock, with one pharmacist saying she's never seen demand like it in 35 years behind the counter.

Already the shelves are bare in the high street chemist stores.

Across the UK, Boots limited sales to two per customer last week as the panic-buying set in - but the entire product range remains out of stock across the country.

A quick check on their website and the messages range from 'sorry temporarily out of stock' to 'stock sold out' or 'stock coming soon'.

We've found hand sanitiser incredibly difficult to source. We were promised a supply last week and it arrived on Monday, but we didn't even get them out of the box before they were gone Paul McKenna, Loughview Pharmacy

In Belfast, you'll not have any better luck around the local pharmacies, as several hours attempting to buy a single bottle of hand sanitiser proved an impossible task.

"It's crazy," said pharmacist Paul McKenna at Loughview Pharmacy near Stranmillis.

"We've found hand sanitiser incredibly difficult to source. We were promised a supply last week and it arrived on Monday, but we didn't even get them out of the box before they were gone. We have had so many people coming in who have become very health conscious because of the virus warnings. A lot of people are planning to travel and will be going through airports, but the supplies are exhausted.

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Paul McKenna

Paul McKenna

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Paul McKenna

"And the suppliers are charging more, with extra surcharges given the incredible demand.

"We had to tell people who were able to get some that we weren't profiteering, but we couldn't sell it any cheaper than what we had to outlay to bring the product in.

"We're still trying to get more as there are a lot of elderly residents and they're concerned. We've also had a lot of carers in who need it but until we get a supply, we can't do anything. Suppliers don't have the stock."

Nicola McKevitt at Stranmillis Pharmacy told a similar story.

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Nicola McKevitt

Nicola McKevitt

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Nicola McKevitt

"It's as scarce as hen's teeth!" she said. "So many people come in asking for it. It's ridiculous but the supply just can't meet the demand. We had one man who came in and bought 12 soap pumps instead, despite the fact that it doesn't do the same job. It's impossible to get enough.

We've even had Chinese students who live around here trying to buy it, and buy face masks, to send home to family, but there's nothing in stock to sell to them Nicola McKevitt, Stranmillis Pharmacy

"I'll have been here 35 years in April and I can tell you, I've never known anything that's been so sought after.

"We've even had Chinese students who live around here trying to buy it, and buy face masks, to send home to family, but there's nothing in stock to sell to them."

Off to west Belfast, and along the Andersonstown Road, still no joy. Every chemist is out of stock.

At Turf Lodge Pharmacy, Jarlath McCarthy shakes his head. It's another "sorry, no".

"We have normal handwash but that's not the same. We've had no hand sanitiser at all for the last fortnight.

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Jarlath McCarthy

Jarlath McCarthy

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Jarlath McCarthy

"We've had a lot of people coming in to buy bottles of Dettol, but you can't wash your hands or face with that."

Along the Shore Road, around Fortwilliam in north Belfast, you're met by more sympathetic smiles.

If they had it, they'd sell it. They simply don't have it and have no idea when they'll be able to get it.

One pharmacist tells us that the demand has been almost constant and it seems your best bet for picking up the most sought after product in Northern Ireland is to keep turning up in the hope of striking it lucky.

A final call to east Belfast and on the Newtownards Road guess what?

"We have placed an order," said Amy Robinson at McDonald's Pharmacy.

"We just don't know if or when we'll be getting a supply."

Lack of supply, incredible rise in demand and soaring prices, and the only people cleaning up are the companies who can't make the product fast enough.

Belfast Telegraph