Four pharmacies fined Rs 800,000 for selling surgical masks at high pricesAn inspection team was dispatched after receiving a consumer complaint, officials said.
The customer said he asked the store owner for the reason for the exorbitant price after receiving the bill of sale, at which the shopkeeper snatched back the bill and tore it up.
Following the complaint, an inspection team from the department swooped on four pharmacies and surgical stores in the Pulchowk area and caught them selling surgical masks for Rs150 apiece.
The department slapped fines totalling Rs800,000 on the stores for overcharging customers under the Consumer Protection Act 2018.
The government fined the four errant stores—Bidya Alka Pharmacy Unit (1), Pulchok; Gautam Pharmacy and Diagnostic Centre, Pulchok; Sadikshya Medical Hall, Jawalakhel and Shuva Surgical Suppliers, Kupondol—Rs200,000 each.
During the inspection, the department team had checked eight pharmacies, grocery stores and cooking gas depots.
Netra Prasad Subedi, director general at the department, said the inspection team was dispatched after receiving a consumer complaint. “The inspection team found pharmacies and surgical shops selling surgical masks for up to Rs150 each when they usually cost Rs10-15,” he said.
The coronavirus outbreak which appears to be spreading relentlessly has pushed up demand for surgical masks, leading pharmacies and surgical houses to create an artificial shortage with a view to profit from the rush buying.
The department intensified market inspections in the Kathmandu Valley, especially of pharmacies and surgical stores, after consumers started complaining about the high prices shopkeepers were charging for surgical masks.
On Thursday, the department slapped fines amounting to Rs430,000 after conducting an inspection of seven pharmacies and surgical stores.
Subedi said that mask making machines had already arrived in Kathmandu. They will start operating soon which will help to ease the shortage to some extent, he added.
The department also checked different gas stores in the valley on Sunday and found no irregularities. The department slapped fines totalling Rs50,000 on different pharmacies on Friday for not having purchase bills and not cooperating with the inspection team.
Industry Minister Lekh Raj Bhatta said that his ministry had requested the Finance Ministry to waive customs duty on the import of masks and hand sanitisers in view of the urgency.
Demand for surgical masks increased drastically after the coronavirus outbreak started spreading globally. The mask is considered to provide protection against infection.
The Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Nepal Chamber of Commerce and Confederation of Nepalese Industries declared that the shortage of masks would ease soon, and that consumers would be able to buy them at regular prices within a week.
The District Administrative Office has warned traders against creating an artificial shortage of masks and hand sanitisers and selling them at a high price.
Frequently asked questions about the coronavirus outbreak
UPDATED as of May 31, 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 had spread to 213 countries and infected more than 6,047,908 people with 368,758 deaths. In South Asia, India has reported the highest number of infections at 173,763 with 4,971 deaths. While Pakistan has reported 66,457 confirmed cases with 1,395 deaths. Nepal has so far reported 1401 cases with six 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.