Government cracks down on price-gouging by pharmacies and surgical shopsThe Department of Commerce slapped fines totalling Rs430,000 on several sellers for overcharging customers.
The Department of Commerce, Supplies and Consumer Protection Management on Thursday slapped fines totalling Rs430,000 on several sellers for overcharging customers after conducting a swoop on seven pharmacies and surgical shops in Kathmandu.
Ayush Pharmacy of Bir Hospital and Issac Hospitech Sport, Chhetrapati were fined Rs200,000 each under the Consumer Protection Act 2018 for hiking the price of surgical masks.
The department fined SJ Medico Surgical, Chhetrapati Rs20,000 for not having a purchase bill. RF Pharmacy of Mahabouddha was fined Rs10,000 for the same offence.
Sellers have been caught charging Rs30-35 each for surgical masks which used to cost Rs10. The price of three-ply masks and normal masks, which used to cost Rs400 and Rs300 per box respectively, has shot up to more than Rs1,700.
Infrared thermometers which used to cost Rs2,000-3,000 per unit depending on the brand now cost more than Rs6,000.
Stores are running low on hand sanitisers and infrared thermometers. Face masks and hand sanitisers, which are considered to provide protection from infection, are being sold at exorbitant prices as sellers try to make money off coronavirus.
Netra Prasad Subedi, director general at the department, said that they alone could not control the impact that has been created in the market in the past few days. There is a shortage of goods while prices have also been hiked, he said.
He came to know about a shipment of three million masks imported from China that is stuck at Kolkata port. The department is coordinating with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies and trying to ease supplies to the extent possible, he said.
Negotiations are also being conducted to import machines to manufacture face masks as quickly as possible, he added.
Prem Lal Maharjan, president of the National Consumer Rights Forum, said that panic buying had created price gougers. “Panic buying is itself a dangerous thing, and consumers should be aware that this behaviour encourages traders to cheat them,” he said.
Maharjan said that there were stocks of masks and disinfectants in the market, but traders were taking advantage of the virus scare and trying to profit from it.
Department stores and medical and surgical shops have started hoarding these goods to sell them at high prices, he said. The District Administrative Office has warned traders against creating an artificial shortage of masks and hand sanitisers and selling them at a high price.
The Directorate General of Foreign Trade, India, amending its export policy, has prohibited the export of personal protection equipment including N-95 masks.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of September 22, 2020
What is Covid-19?
Covid-19, short for coronavirus disease, is an illness caused by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, short for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Common symptoms of the disease include fever, dry cough, fatigue, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In severe cases, the infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.
How contagious is Covid-19?
Covid-19 can spread easily from person to person, especially in enclosed spaces. The virus can travel through the air in respiratory droplets produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes. As the virus can also survive on plastic and steel surfaces for up to 72 hours and on cardboard for up to 24 hours, any contact with such surfaces can also spread the virus. Symptoms take between two to 14 days to appear, during which time the carrier is believed to be contagious.
Where did the virus come from?
The virus was first identified in Wuhan, China in late December. The coronavirus is a large family of viruses that is responsible for everything from the common cold to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). After an initial outbreak in Wuhan that spread across Hubei province, eventually infecting over 80,000 and killing more than 3,000, new infection rates in mainland China have dropped. However, the disease has since spread across the world at an alarming rate.
What is the current status of Covid-19?
The World Health Organisation has called the ongoing outbreak a “pandemic” and urged countries across the world to take precautionary measures. Covid-19 has spread to 213 countries and territories around the world and infected more than 31,405,983 people with 967,505 deaths and 22,990,260 recoveries. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 5,557,573 with 88,943 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 306,304 confirmed cases with 6,420 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 65,276 cases with 427 deaths.
How dangerous is the disease?
The mortality rate for Covid-19 is estimated to be 3.6 percent, but new studies have put the rate slightly higher at 5.7 percent. Although Covid-19 is not too dangerous to young healthy people, older individuals and those with immune-compromised systems are at greater risk of death. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease, or those who’ve recently undergone serious medical procedures, are also at risk.
How do I keep myself safe?
The WHO advises that the most important thing you can do is wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unclean hands. Clean and disinfect frequently used surfaces like your computers and phones. Avoid large crowds of people. Seek medical attention if symptoms persist for longer than a few days.
Is it time to panic?
No. The government has imposed a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus. There is no need to begin stockpiling food, cooking gas or hand sanitizers. However, it is always prudent to take sensible precautions like the ones identified above.