Sri Lanka plans price controls on face masks as virus fears drive demand

PROTECTION: A rider wearing a mask waits at a motorcycle park in Colombo.

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s drug regulatory agency will put price controls on face masks, a top official said as pharmacies ran out of supplies after a tourist from China tested positive for a deadly corona virus.

Some pharmacies had completely run out of stocks, and surgical masks were being sold at over 10 to 20 times the normal price, some customers complained.

“Very soon we will be issuing a gazette (with price ceilings) because the price has been jacked up,” Director General of the National Medical Regulatory Authority, Kamal Jayasinghe said.

Many pharmacies, however, were selling one or two masks per customer in a bid to make existing supplies last.

Some were selling five per customer.

Jayasinghe said the NMRA had requested pharmacies to sell a maximum of five masks per customer.

In a functioning market, a sudden demand will push prices up temporarily, giving more profits and new suppliers will enter the market, sometimes dropping their normal business, and prices will drop back.

The higher profits will allow importers to buy from more expensive markets like Eastern Europe and the West and sell higher priced masks to those who are willing to pay.

Health Minister Pavithra Wanniarachchi said domestic manufactures were also bringing raw material from China, where there was also a big demand.

She said the NMRA required pre-registration of suppliers who wanted to import masks and the legal requirements were delaying fresh imports.

But Government spokesman Minister Mahindanda Aluthgamage said the Ministry of Health had set up a special unit to speed up approvals.

A senior official of top private pharmaceuticals group said they could only supply 35 percent of the demand, but we’re trying to get more. But the group’s suppliers were also facing higher levels of orders.

“There is a huge shortage of surgical masks,” he said. “Yesterday we could only supply 35 percent of the demand, so there a 75 percent shortage.

“There is also a price increase and we believe the suppliers have to ad hoc. All of us are scrambling to find supply.”

Another pharmaceuticals chain said there was a sudden surge in demand therefore they were looking for more supplies. (Colombo/Jan29/2020)

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