Masks and hand sanitizers have vanished from shops in the capital, thanks to the COVID-19 or novel coronavirus fear.
For the past one week medicine and surgical shops have been witnessing a rush of people looking specifically for those two items. Even though specialists say washing hands with soap is as effective, and that most masks only help prevent touching the mouth accidentally.
“Earlier we used to sell a maximum of 10 pieces of hand sanitizer and masks in a month, but four days back our stock of sanitizers and masks has exhausted,” said Raghav, a chemist working at one of the biggest medicine shops of Ranchi. “On average 100 people visit looking for masks and hand sanitizers every day. Suppliers have said that they are unable to supply.”
Even roadside vendors selling pollution masks are doing brisk business.
“I used to sell only three to four masks a day but now I sell around 40 pieces per day,” said Chhotu, a vendor on Main Road. “I charge Rs 40 per piece as usual. People say the mask will protect them from an unknown virus that has just arrived in India from China.”
However, only a specialised mask, called N-95, can prevent the virus. But experts say those masks should be used by those in close proximity to affected persons (such as doctors and nurses). If everyone rushes to buy N-95 masks, the people who need them most will not be able to get them.
Saurabh Kumar, owner of Vaishnavi Pharma at Lalpur, said the N-95 mask is out of market.
“Till four days back I had the stock of this specialised mask. I used to sell at Rs 350 per piece. Now in a panic like situation stockists seem to have hoarded it. I have come to know that many shopkeepers are selling it at even double the price,” said Saurabh. “I had a huge stock of hand sanitizers that was set to expire in the next two months. But all were sold out within a couple of days and now I don’t have a single mask or sanitizer. And every day people come to my shop to ask for those,” he said.
Chandralal Sahu, owner of Sai Medical Shop at Siramtoli, said some unscrupulous shopkeepers are selling ordinary pollution mask as N-95.
“Masks and hand sanitizers are surgical items and there is a huge margin (of profit) in such items. The stock of masks and sanitizers at my shop has exhausted and suppliers have said that they are unable to supply fresh consignment. Some shopkeepers are selling masks at a high rate,” said Sahu.
Rajesh Kumar of New BR Enterprises, another medicine shop, blamed it on unnecessary panic.
“Proper awareness drive among people is very necessary and the state government should also take steps to ensure proper supply of masks and medicines,” he said.
Harmu resident Piyush Kumar on Friday went from shop to shop till he finally found a sanitizer at Jai Hind Pharma on Line Tank Road. He immediately called up his family and screamed over the phone: “Mil gaya, mil gaya (got it, got it).”
“I had been searching for a hand sanitizer for a couple of days. Now I will search for a proper mask. These days I have to regularly visit the hospital for my ailing mother,” he said.
Some other residents said they were reconsidering Holi plans.
“This year the festival was going to be even more special for me because my younger brother Golu got married last week and he and his wife Vaishali are keen to celebrate Holi with us,” said homemaker Sabita Mishra of Kanke. “All my relatives and family friends assemble at my residence to celebrate Holi. But I am bit confused this time in view of the virus scare.”
The situation was similar in Dhanbad.
Manoj Kumar, a stockist of surgical equipments in the coal town, said the demand for N-95 masks has increased drastically and manufacturing companies are failing to keep up the supply.
Ramesh Kumar, a retail medicine shop owner from Bartand, said the the demand for Ply-2 masks, which are used in operating theatres, have also shot up beyond double.
Samples test negative
State health secretary Nitin Madan Kulkarni said on Friday that the blood samples from four suspected cases kept under observation at RIMS Ranchi which were sent to the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases (NICED) Calcutta have tested negative.