Prices of earphones and other mobile accessories have started to surge following the outbreak of the novel coronavirus that has disrupted Pakistan’s imports from China.
The deadly virus has caused over 200 casualties and infected more than 7,000 people. As a result, the World Health Organisation has declared a worldwide health emergency over the epidemic.
“We are usually low on supply around this time of the year given the Chinese holidays, but this virus outbreak has made matters worse,” said Mohammad Ahmed, a wholesaler of mobile phone accessories in Karachi’s Saddar.
Ahmed deals with retailers at his warehouse on the first floor of the Saddar mobile market building. He’s worried that an alarm has been raised in the market about a ban on imports from China.
While consumers might still be clueless about a probable hike in prices, opportunists are well aware of it and have resorted to hoarding, the wholesaler said.
“Such situations are usually amplified by profiteers as they create panic,” he added.
But this time, Ahmed said, the situation was unprecedented and they were not seeing any cargo coming in in the weeks to come.
An official of the Civil Aviation Authority confirmed that it received a notification Thursday, suspending flight operations to and from China until further notice. This included both commercial and cargo flights.
As per their earlier directives, the official said, flight operations halted on Jan 22 were to resume on Feb 2, but now “given the growing uncertainty, we cannot confirm”.
“A flight was scheduled for today as well, but it obviously got cancelled,” he said.
While mobile phone and electronic markets were likely to take the biggest hit, merchants shared that other markets too were no exception as most of non-essential imports — diapers, garments and jewelry — also came from China.
“You’ll find merchants importing 30 and more cargoes a month and there are several of them,” said another merchant Mohammad Adil. “Now for each day, flights are being cancelled and you can calculate how many imports are being delayed.”
Some say this should be an eye-opener for the government that an over dependence on other countries could hurt us economically at any given moment. For example, Rs613 billion worth of goods were imported from China alone in the last quarter. This accounts for a quarter of all our imports during the period.
Others argue that once the crisis is contained, the country should encourage local industries to produce these goods and reduce dependence on imports.