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Coronavirus And The Hygiene Product Profiteers

By Michael Bamidele, Modupe Adekanye 08 March 2020   |   2:00 pm

In this Feb. 6, 2020, photo, a man tries on a face mask at a pharmacy in Kitwe, Zambia. The coronavirus that has spread through much of China has yet to be diagnosed in Africa, but global health authorities are increasingly worried about the threat as health workers on the ground warn they are not ready to handle an outbreak. (AP Photo/Emmanuel Mwiche)

Coronavirus In Lagos

On Thursday, the 27th of February, 2020, Nigeria confirmed its first case of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Lagos State. The patient, an Italian citizen who works in Nigeria who returned from Milan on the 24th.

After spending the night in a hotel near the airport, he arrived in the neighbouring state of Ogun on the 25th. He was there until he developed symptoms on the afternoon of the 25th after which he was transferred to a containment facility in Lagos. The virus was confirmed the next day by the Virology Laboratory of the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, part of the Laboratory Network of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

Hours after the confirmation of the coronavirus in Nigeria, the price of hand sanitizers and face masks shot up by 300%.

Since the first cases of the coronavirus were detected in China’s Wuhan city, the virus has spread throughout the world and as at the time of this writing, more than 3,100 people have died globally and over 90,000 have been infected.

The Feverish Purchases

The confirmation of the deadly virus in Nigeria created a hysteria that led to panic buying of items such as face masks, hand sanitizers and infrared thermometers.

No one was prepared for the unprecedented demand. In no time, the price of the aforementioned items at pharmaceutical stores, supermarkets, and even online stores changed overnight.

On Jumia, a shopping site, a pack of 50 disposable face masks sells for N21,000 to N25,000. While hand sanitizers go for N3,000 to N9,000 depending on the size of the container.

Meanwhile, on Konga, another shopping site, a pack of 50 disposable face masks sells for N10,000 to N11,500. Hand sanitizers sell for N2000 to N5000 Naira.

A number of Nigerians took to social media to bemoan the unreasonable spike in the prices of these items.

“Three weeks ago, I bought a pack of face masks for N2500. My wife’s niece yesterday got them for N10,000,” a user complained.

A pack of face masks sold for N350 before the advent of the coronavirus.

The unreasonable spike in the price of face masks is not unique to Nigeria. There are reports of similar issues in the United Kingdom and the United States.

UK based medical supplies firm MediSupplies told customers on its website:

“Due to unprecedented demand, we are currently out of stock on most infection control, hand hygiene and disinfectant products. We are working with our suppliers to obtain new stocks of these products as soon as possible.”

According to data provided to CNN by Helium 10, a software company that assists Amazon retailers, Amazon users have searched for the word “N95 mask” more than 862,000 times in the last 30 days. In December, users searched for the keyword a mere 4,500 times over 30 days.

The top-selling mask product, a 100-pack of Universal 4533 sanitary dust masks, started selling at $8. The price eventually rose over $200, Helium 10 said.

While many vendors and sellers are motivated by greed and the need to cash in on the unusual demand. One cannot forgo the role of basic economics: if demand is greater than the supply, there is a shortage, consequently, fewer items are offered at a higher price.

The regulatory body, Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission [FCCPC] said it will take action against those found taking advantage of consumers by increasing prices of protective and hygiene products over the coronavirus case. The FCCPC said via a statement that the manipulation of prices over the coronavirus is a violation of the law and that the commission is set to prosecute any offenders.

“Any exercise or exploitation of undue pressure in 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.”

Is It Even Worth It?

In the midst of the craze for hand sanitizers, face masks and whatnot, have we asked ourselves if they really are the most effective approach.

The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that if you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with the suspected 2019-nCoV infection.

The U.S. Surgeon General urged people to stop buying face masks on Saturday;

“They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”

The most effective precaution against the coronavirus as advised by World Health Organization are:

Wash your hands frequently: Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.

Maintain social distancing: Maintain at least 1 metre (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

Stay home if you feel unwell: If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance.

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