The mask mafia

March 1, 2020

The price of masks surged across Pakistan as coronavirus hit the country

Photo: PPI

Mujahid Hussain is an entrepreneur interested in exporting to Afghanistan. On Tuesday, he says, he finalised a deal for 150,000 medical masks at Rs8 per piece.

“Islamabad was the point of delivery. On Thursday when I contacted the suppliers, they said that the mask was now Rs19 per piece. They told me that they’d made a deal last night for two million masks at the same rate,” Hussain tells The News on Sunday.

Ikram Junaidi, a senior journalist, says that the masks Hussain is referring to are called surgical masks. “These masks are cheap and not very effective in protecting people from contagious diseases like coronavirus,” he says.

Read more: Pakistan braces up for huge quarantine after coronavirus reaches via Iran

He says that N-95 masks are used for better protection and that those were being sold for Rs200 to Rs400 per piece in the market till the last week. “Now you go to the market and the price is the same everywhere. It is now Rs1,000 per piece,” he says.

Since the outbreak of coronavirus in China and then in Italy, these masks have been in high demand.

Pakistan used to import masks from China. But since the outbreak of coronavirus they had to be exported to China from Pakistan.

Taking notice of the situation, Drugs Regulatory Authority of Pakistan had to issue a notification in January banning export of masks to China.

When the notification was issued, social media in Pakistan was abuzz with some inauthentic messages supposedly from Chinese people to thank Pakistan for export of masks. In February some companies were allowed to export these masks.

Islamabad Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Hamza Shafqaat tells TNS that the city government will not allow anyone to make undue profits from the sale of masks. He says a grand operation is underway against hoarders and profiteers.

Rawalpindi Deputy Commissioner Capt(retired) Anwarul Haq, tells TNS that the official rate of surgical masks is Rs12.

“No one will be allowed to sell these masks at exorbitant prices. The district administration has seized sizeable quantities of these masks from certain hoarders. These will be sold at the official price,” he says.

Pakistan's mask mafia: price of coronavirus protective gear surged as coronavirus hit the country