Kaitaia's pharmacies could be doing a roaring trade in face masks, if they could get them.

Far North Pharmacy proprietor Richard Brown said he had opened on Monday, a public holiday, and while he had not had a lot of customers, three-quarters of those he did see wanted masks.

He had had some, albeit not of the type most customers wanted, and by the end of the day he had sold out.

Masks were being manufactured in China at the rate of millions per day, he said, in response to the coronavirus outbreak there, but they had become difficult to obtain in New Zealand. He had ordered some, which he hoped would arrive next week, but doubted that they represented a wise investment.

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"Viruses are very small, and it probably isn't realistic to expect a mask to filter them out," he said, adding that a lot of Monday's customers had been Asians, who were about to return to tertiary education or had friends coming to visit.

The Ministry of Health has stated that masks are unlikely to provide any degree of protection against coronavirus, and that to offer any protection at all a mask would have to be so dense as to make breathing difficult.

That, Mr Brown said, was the mask his customers had been asking for.