Surgical masks are being sold at 16 times the original price as Karachi markets run out of supplies after the country confirmed its first two cases of coronavirus Wednesday evening.
The green surgical masks that were available in the market for Rs5 just a few days ago were being sold at an inflated price of Rs80 after news of the confirmed coronavirus cases broke.
A packet of masks is usually available for less than Rs200. A day after Pakistan reported its first two cases, they were mostly unavailable in the market and where available, they were being sold for Rs1,800 a packet.
The situation is reminiscent of a Hollywood drama scene where a boy makes big profits selling masks to college students because of the panic of a chlamydia outbreak. Chlamydia is a sexually-transmitted disease and is not caused by an airborne virus, but people resort to anything when they panic.
There is little evidence to suggest that the coronavirus can travel through air.
Health experts have shared the possibility of it being transmitted through the droplets of an infected person when they sneeze or cough.
This means the panic over masks may be redundant. Doctors say the masks might provide modest to little protection.
Retailer dispensaries and pharmacies around public and private hospitals in Karachi have run out of masks because of this panic. Supplies for public hospitals have also run short.
A famous dispensary owner in Hussainabad said it was becoming troublesome for him to sell masks. “We get expensive supplies from the market, if at all, and when we sell it on the proportional prices, the authorities pursue us,” he said.
He added that when they stop selling the masks, their customers get annoyed.
Customers outside another famous dispensary on Newtown Road said that they could get the packs of surgical masks for Rs1,800, but now the pharmacy says they don’t have masks.
It’s not only the retail sector, but the wholesale markets of medical supplies that have been affected too. There was chaos at the medical market at New Challi Road near Bolton Market as people rushed to get their hands on masks. Most returned empty-handed.
“There have been three brawls in the market since [Thursday] morning,” a shopkeeper said. He added that people would charge at anyone who would sell the masks and a mob-like situation had emerged.
The wholesale market that supplies medical apparatus and other supplies to Karachi had a scarce quantity of masks remaining.
The hospitals reflected the situation of the markets. A source associated with Civil Hospital, Karachi confirmed that supply was short for the staff and they had requisitioned for a procurement of masks.
“Staff has numerable supply remaining for surgical purposes, but emergency rooms and other wards are out of masks,” the source said.
However, Karachi is not alone in this. Media reports from the US, Hong Kong and other parts of the world have reported the same demand to supply dilemma.
China not only produces most of the world’s surgical masks, but it also uses as much. A report said that the production of masks in China is 20 million pieces a day but their usage is around 50 to 60 million in a day.