Surgical masks have become 750% costlier in Pakistan, especially the port city, after a suspected gas leak in Keamari left more than a dozen people dead and hundreds of others affected.
Already high in demand amid the fear of coronavirus — which originated in China's Wuhan city and has left more than 2,000 people dead in the People's Republic — the surgical masks are reportedly significantly short in supply in Karachi's markets now as customers, worried over the gas leakage, throng markets to buy them for protection.
Surgical masks were being sold for Rs2 a piece before Sunday night, when it was suspected that a gas leak had affected residents in Keamari near Karachi Port Trust (KPT), causing 14 deaths. As of Thursday evening, the masks were being sold for Rs1,500 each.
The Sindh health department on Thursday had confirmed that the lethal element was an aeroallergen from soybean dust, a day after Karachi University's International Center for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) submitted a report to Commissioner Karachi Iftikhar Ali Shallwani stating the same.
Emergency situations in civilised societies usually call for subsidised prices — with lower or no profits at all — and ensuring availability of crucial items to fight epidemics and incidents such as the suspected Karachi gas leakage.
Turns out, nonetheless, that it is quite the contrary in Pakistan.
Speaking to Geo.tv, salespeople at medical stores and chemists claimed that there has been a shortage of surgical masks since the past one month. Although surgical masks were sent to China from around the world free of cost after the coronavirus outbreak, Pakistani merchants, however, repurchased the masks already in supply at twice the price and exported them to Beijing, they added.
The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP), which is responsible for keeping prices in check has so far only issued one notification and a single advertisement in this regard.
Officials stressed that they had already issued orders for a ban on the export of surgical masks on January 31 and have appealed to the people through two newspaper advertisements to alert them of those selling at higher prices. However, no action was taken as there had been no complaints in this regard.