Illustration by Đàm Minh Chí
Vietnamese people across the country have flocked to buy medical face masks and alcohol hand-wash gel to protect themselves from coronavirus since last week.
The move came after the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a global health emergency as the coronavirus outbreak spread beyond China.
The latest data from WHO shows that as of Tuesday there are more than 20,000 confirmed cases in more than two dozen countries, including Việt Nam, the vast majority of them in China. There have been at least 425 deaths in mainland China, one in Hong Kong and one in the Philippines. The first infection was found in Wuhan City, Hubei Province in December.
Besides volunteer groups and young people who have given masks out for free, some medical equipment business owners in Viet Nam have taken advantage of the situation to sell masks at sky-high prices to profit off the panic of their compatriots.
For example, in Hà Nội, thousands of people had to queue to buy boxes of medical masks for up to VNĐ300,000 (US$13) instead of VNĐ50,000 ($2) as usual in Hapulico Medical Market in Thanh Xuân District on Friday.
For other types of medical masks, the price was also increased by up to 3-5 times. The same situation happened in pharmacies in Ngọc Khánh Street, Ba Đình District as well as many districts of the capital.
In Hải Phòng, a pharmacy was found on Sunday selling boxes of masks for VNĐ400,000 ($17) instead of VNĐ25,000 ($1) as normal.
The price gouging caused public anger nationwide.
To bring the situation under control, agencies in Hà Nội and localities have conducted inspections to deal with the medical equipment stores. Hà Nội police also encouraged people to provide information and record evidence of stores selling medical masks for sky-high prices. The police would base on the information to deal with violations.
Statistics from the Market Management Department under the Ministry of Industry and Trade revealed that between January 31 and February 2, it handled 1,221 violations related to medical masks nationwide, temporarily seizing nearly 314,000 masks.
In a related move, on Saturday Deputy Prime Minister Vũ Đức Đam called for the revocation of the business licence of any medical equipment store or pharmacy found selling medical masks with sky-high prices.
However, instead of reviewing their business ethics, some pharmacies at Hapulico Medical Market are reportedly considering banding together to stop selling medical masks to retaliate against the agencies.
Their actions have sparked concern over the business ethics of some traders.
Nguyễn Minh Tuấn, head of Medical Equipment Department under the Ministry of Health, said such actions were "unacceptable" as all people needed masks now.
Cao Trung Hiếu, founder of Dân Trí Soft - a company selling software for restaurants, clothing and coffee shops, told Thanh Niên (Young People) online newspaper that in this wild way of doing business, the pharmacy owners only thought of profit.
“I really feel sad for the business culture of some traders in the country,” he said.
Phạm Lê Duy, a lecturer of immunology at the University of Medicine and Pharmacy in HCM City said while the Government and agencies were making efforts to disseminate useful information to prevent the virus spreading, some people considered the disease an opportunity to make money.
“The thing we all should do at the moment is support each other, helping others is helping ourselves”, he said.
The meaning of "community immunity" now was clearer than ever, he said.
The more people are protected from the virus, the better we could protect those at high risk of infection, Duy said.
Trần Quốc Khánh, a doctor at the Việt Nam – Germany Friendship Hospital also shared his view on his Facebook account that “To live is to give”.
Khánh said he hoped individuals, traders and pharmacy owners would join hands to stop the virus so that everyone could buy medical masks and alcohol hand-wash gel at a reasonable price.
“Every business wants to gain profit, but if we ignore all the ethical and humanitarian issues, it is a very regrettable thing," he said.
I agree with Hiếu, Duy and Khánh.
I think when a disease hits, killing people and causing both social and economic damage, the most important thing is to fight the disease together instead of taking advantage of the situation to make a profit.
When a disease occurs, we should protect ourselves, take care of the people around us and not profiteer off panic.
You won't become a billionaire by selling medical masks, but you could catch the virus from people who couldn't afford to buy a mask from you.
After all, kindness is a choice.— VNS