Chemists run out of masks in Mumbai

As fear of coronavirus grips people, manufacturers and suppliers struggle to meet high export orders

The panic triggered by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in China has led to a severe shortage of surgical masks and N95 respirators in the market. While chemists in the city have no stocks, suppliers are struggling to cope with bulk export orders ranging from two to five crore pieces. Some retailers and online sellers who have leftover stocks have hiked the prices.

“People are making bulk purchases because of the fear. With very high orders for exports, manufacturers and suppliers are concentrated there,” Abhay Pandey of All Food and Drug Licence Holders Foundation, an association of suppliers, said.

A Mumbai-based manufacturer, who did not wish to be named, told The Hindu that he has pending orders of five crore disposable surgical masks. “The orders are from France, Dubai, Kenya and China, but I am unable to supply to any one due to an acute shortage of raw material.”

The manufacturer also said he sources a non-woven netted cloth-like material from Gujarat to make the masks. “But over the last few weeks, the raw material has been unavailable.”

To control the situation, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry on January 31 prohibited the export of personal protection equipment, including clothing and all kinds of masks. However in another circular issued on February 8, the ministry prohibited export of only N95 masks.

“Soon after the exports opened, the orders from the domestic markets went into a backlog,” said Dilip S. Modi, a disposable items supplier from Mumbai, who has pending orders for 50 lakh pieces since past week.

A survey carried out by Local Circles tapped the public perspective about masks.

Nearly 13% of those surveyed said India should continue production but ban exports to focus on domestic demand while 43% felt that production should be increased but exports should be maintained only after ensuring buffer stock for domestic market. However, with the worldwide demand for masks, the domestic market has been neglected.

Hakim Kapasi, who heads a chemist association in north west Mumbai, said none of the 600-odd shops in the region have any masks. “We have a WhatsApp group and members are constantly putting up requests hoping to get supplies from somewhere.”

Mr. Kapasi said he had received a bulk order of two crore pieces of surgical masks, which he had to turn down. According to Mr. Kapasi, there are three common types of masks available — three-layered disposable mask, cotton reusable mask, and N95 respirator that provides better filtration. “The demand for the disposable three-layered surgical masks and N95 is the highest.”

While a chemist procures the disposal three-layered surgical mask for ₹2, the selling price ranges from ₹5 to ₹10. However, due to the shortage, they are now sold at ₹40 to ₹50 per piece. The N95 masks, which were priced between ₹75 and ₹140, are now being sold for ₹200 and above.

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Printable version | Apr 10, 2020 2:37:30 PM |

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