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Việt Nam’s facemask and sanitiser supply runs out amid coronavirus fears

Update: January, 31/2020 - 17:59
Hà Nội residents scramble to buy facemasks as fear of coronavirus infection rises following reports of two people in Hà Nội tested positive for the virus on Thursday. — VNA/VNS Photo Thành Đạt

HÀ NỘI — Demand for facemasks and hand sanitiser has soared after three Vietnamese people tested positive for coronavirus.

The cost of facemasks in the capital city of Hà Nội has rocketed since Thursday, as pharmacies double or even triple prices while people race to stock up as many protective measures as possible amid the rising fear of the virus.

A box of 50 three-layer disposable facemasks which usually costs VNĐ30,000 (US$1.3) could now fetch up to VNĐ100,000 ($4.32). Despite the dramatic price rise, facemasks are quickly running out at medical supply outlets across Việt Nam, but reports of purposefully withholding stock to create artificial scarcity have surfaced on social media and surveillance authorities are cracking down on the unscrupulous practice.

Pharmacies on Hà Nội’s Phương Mai Street, near Bạch Mai Hospital, on Friday, witnessed bumper crowds of people waiting to secure safety gear.

Thousands of people scrambled at Hapulico, one of the capital’s biggest wholesale medical centres on Nguyễn Huy Tưởng Street, fighting over facemask boxes while the product’s price has been even pushed to over VNĐ300,000 ($12.95) at many pharmacies in the centre.

Hà Nội’s Market Surveillance Team No.1 inspected six suppliers at Hapulico centre. Most of them did not list prices and showed signs of speculation. The inspectors had fined these suppliers and requested them to commit to selling facemasks at proper prices.

“People have been coming to buy masks a lot more, and the masks in the market have sold out very quickly,” said a shop owner in Hà Nội’s Tây Hồ District who declined to reveal his name.

“It’s been hard for me to get more masks from my supplier because people have been calling from everywhere, China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan to order more masks from my supplier. They ordered in bulk, like thousands of masks. We have not been able to get a lot of masks and we can only sell one mask per person,” he added

The situation is not better elsewhere in the country.

Nguyễn Đăng Thục in central Quảng Trị Province’s Đông Hà City had to drive to the suburbs in search of facemasks for the whole family.

“Whenever I go to pharmacies or convenience stores, sellers shake their heads saying they are running out of facemasks. Then I decided to ride further from the city to stock up on coverings. The price is unchanged as well,” he said.

“Now it’s time to buy hand sanitiser.”

Nhật Nguyễn asked his acquaintance working at Quảng Trị Province Hospital to help purchase N95 facemasks produced by 3M as “it can protect me better when going to crowded places or riding on public transit.”

Sharing the opinion, Trương Tuấn Anh in Hà Nội said he had tried to get N95 facemasks on e-commerce sites like Tiki and Shopee to little luck.

Meanwhile, according to recommendations by the Ministry of Health, the normal two-layer or three-layer disposable facemasks are enough to protect people from being infected with coronavirus if used correctly.

Amid the shortage, a make-up store chain in Hà Nội started giving out two to three facemasks for each passer-by for free from Thursday at their three branches.

“Fifteen boxes of face masks were given away this morning. We’re out of masks now and a lot of people are still waiting, and we don’t know how to handle this situation,” said 23-year-old Trần Anh Hồng, a salesperson on Bà Triệu Street.

“Those who got the masks looked pleased, but those that are still waiting seem to be annoyed,” she added.

Hà Nội Transport and Services Corporation also offers facemasks to riders of tourist-oriented two-deck hop-on hop-off buses and public buses from Nội Bài Airport to the city centre.

Hoàng Ánh Dương, deputy head of Việt Nam Directorate of Market Surveillance under the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT), said they tasked sub-teams to strengthen management over facemask stockpiles in localities to prevent suppliers from utilising the shortage to profiteer.

According to a MoIT representative, facemasks are not named on lists of price stabilisation items or goods priced by the State. However, if the demand rises, the ministry might intervene to have more suppliers or ask existing suppliers increase their productivity, he said. — VNS

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