Protective Face Mask and Hand Sanitiser Photo: Moji Delano

Coronavirus: Nigeria, Amazon warn against masks, sanitisers price hike

* Government concerned about inability to regulate prices ─Health Minister

* Rushing to buy face masks, others needless ─Dr. Mamora

* Exploitative price increase or trade practices predatory, attract penalties ─FCCPC

Isola Moses | ConsumerConnect

In view of the devastating effects of Coronavirus (COVID-19), which currently, is fast spreading to and affecting several economies and regions of the global world, authorities have severally warned wholesalers and retailers to not jack up prices of face masks, hand sanitisers, latex gloves, and other personal hygiene products used in controlling the spread of the disease from person to person.

Accordingly, the Federal Government of Nigeria has cautioned that suppliers and retailers using the excuse of Coronavirus case in Nigeria to inflate prices of these protective products will be prosecuted.

The Government stated that, sequel to the outbreak of Coronavirus in the country involving an Italian while over 39 others are being quarantined in other health facilities, sellers of face masks and latex gloves, personal hygiene products, such as sanitisers and anti-bacterial wipes, have increased prices of the products which are necessary in preventing infection or spread of COVID-19.

Federal Government worries, can’t regulate face masks, sanitisers

Dr. Osagie Ehanire, Honourable Minister for Health, says the Government is worried about the increase in the prices of the products.

Dr. Ehanire stated this in an interview on Channels Television Sunday, March 1 in regard to the current administration’s response to containing further spread of the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) in the country.

According to the Minister, “the government is concerned about prices going up. But you see, we operate a market economy.

“Those who are traders and suppliers are doing a brisk business by trying to increase importation and those who manufacture are also doing a brisk business scaling up the manufacturing of all these products.

L-R: Honourable Ministers Sadiya Farouq (Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development); Mohammed (Information and Culture); Mamora (Of State for Health); and Sirika (Aviation) at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, FCT, on inspection of how air travellers are screened for Coronavirus (COVID-19) recently. 

“So, it is not surprising that the prices go up at the moment. The government makes sure that those agencies and organisations that need to have these materials have them,” Ehanire said.

The Minister for Health explained that the prices of the kits “will drop when traders import more of these products,” stressing that the Federal Government might not be able to regulate the prices of the commodities.

On revealing the identity of the 44-year-old Italian patient diagnosed with COVID-19 in Nigeria, Dr. Ehanire simply said doing so was against the medical ethics.

He, nonetheless, reiterated the Nigerian Government’s readiness to stop the further spread of the disease to other parts of the country.

Abuse of citizens’ sensitivity, vulnerability violates moral codes, law

Nigeria’s Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), Saturday, February 29, said the inordinate practice during national public health concern violates both moral codes and extant law.

Mr. Babatunde Irukera, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), in a statement, noted that abusing citizens’ sensitivity, apprehension, anxiety and vulnerability, especially during emergencies that could adversely affect national security is a violation of the Nigerian Law.

According to Mr. Irukera, the FCCPC surveillance efforts have discovered that even reputable pharmacies and department stores in Nigeria are engaging in price gouging and manipulating supplies in a manner that distorts the market, or temporarily restricts availability in order to unreasonably/unfairly increase prices.

“Any conspiracy, combination, agreement or arrangement to unduly limit or manipulate supply, in order to unreasonably enhance price or otherwise restrain competition is a criminal offence under S.108(1)(b) and (c), FCCPA.

“Any exercise or exploitation of undue pressure in selling or the sale of goods or services, or price manipulation between displayed, and selling price are also serious violations of the FCCPA under Sections 115(3) and 124(1).

“Taking advantage of the possibility of infection by a dangerous communicable disease to control supply, or unilaterally increase prices is predatory as it preys on the desperation of citizens,” the Commission’s CEO warned in the statement.

He further cautions that “considering the circumstances and the vital national interest/security this illegal conduct undermines, the Commission intends to strongly enforce the full letter of the law, including the fullest extent of penalties associated with this conduct.”

The FCCPC, therefore, encouraged consumers to be vigilant, and report such unreasonable or arbitrary exploitative price increase or trade practices to the Commission by telephone on 08056002020, or 08056003030, or by e-mail: contact@fccpc.gov.ng.

Likewise, the Federal Government, again, is worried about its capacity to control the supplies of face masks, sanitisers, and other protective products in the nation’s marketplace.

Lagos battles shortage of masks, sanitisers amid price hike

Face masks and hand sanitisers reportedly have become hot commodities, especially in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial city, where the Italian Coronavirus (COVID-19) disease patient’s case was confirmed recently.

ConsumerConnect learnt that several pharmacies in cosmopolitan Lagos, fondly regarded as Nigeria’s Centre of Excellence, had increased the prices of the commodities or reported having run out of stock.

Many people have already started wearing face masks and using sanitizers actively in the city.

A number of Lagos residents were said to have blamed the pharmacies from seeking to profiteer from the situation by faking shortage of stock this time.

Whereas some pharmacists are insisting that stocks have run out because of a spike in demand starting Friday, February 28.

A report stated that of the entire population seeking these personal hygiene products, a medical doctor at Alimosho General Hospital, in Lagos, stressed that those who have been confirmed to be infected with the virus, and those close to such persons should be the ones using face masks, not the entire population.

According to him, “I think we need more enlightenment. We have an index case in Nigeria, but it hasn’t gotten to the stage where everybody needs to start wearing face masks all over the place.

“I think the people need to be more educated about the issue.”

Coronavirus: Lagos battles shortage of face masks, hand sanitisers amid increase in prices.  Photo: EuroNews

He further emphasised that “it is the people who have respiratory tract infections, or who have been confirmed to have the virus that need face masks so as to prevent the spread to people around them.

“Those taking care of such people or staying close to them also need to wear face masks like to prevent the virus from getting into their respiratory system. But for the rest of us (Nigerians), I don’t think it is necessary.”

Meanwhile, the Federal Government has also appealed to Nigerians to remain calm and not get involved in panic buying of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as face masks and hand sanitisers among others.

Dr. Olorunnimbe Mamora, Minister of State for Health for made the appeal Monday, March 2 on Channels Television.

Mamora said, “You see, the face mask that people are struggling to buy, I tell you it’s not very necessary where you don’t have a candidate (I won’t say a patient now) that is not manifesting symptoms –sneezing.”

“The face mask is really meant for a person who is sneezing, coughing, and wanting to protect others around him/her.

Amazon warns sellers against increasing products prices

As some sellers are jacking up prices by three or four times the original costs of face masks and sanitisers, Amazon, a global e-commerce giant, has warned third-party sellers on its ‘Marketplace’ platform against exorbitant price hikes to the products amid the Coronavirus outbreak that continues to expand across the globe

Wired reports that the company demands Marketplace sellers to abide by its Fair Pricing Policy, a rule set to protect against “pricing practices that harm customer trust” that dictates that you may not set “a price on a product or service that is significantly higher than recent prices offered on or off Amazon.”

Consumers of face masks and other Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in Hong Kong, China

Yet, due to the Coronavirus, the demand for face masks has skyrocketed, leading some sellers to raise prices in response, stated the report.

Prices for some of the most popular options for medical face masks have tripled and, in some cases, even quadrupled.

The No. 1 bestseller listing for the category, a pack of 100 face masks sold by a company called Kidirt, the report added, is listed at $14.99 with $4.99 shipping, as it does not appear to qualify for Prime.

That’s four times what the product cost a few weeks ago, citing data from Amazon price tracker Keepa.

For instance, more expensive and effective face masks, like N95 respirator masks, are also getting price gouged, according to Wired.

Is the global world running out of Personal Protective Equipment stocks?

Products by 3M, one of the most popular manufacturers of such masks, and Honeywell are seeing quadrupling prices, from around $15 to more than $60 for packs of 20.

Both 3M and Honeywell are not involved in any way, but neither can the companies control the pricing set by third-party sellers that may buy the masks wholesale and resell them on Amazon.

While it is believed that Amazon can do something about the prices, the company has warned some sellers, but it has yet to hand out platform bans.

Additional reports by Alexander Davis and Gbenga Kayode

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