Covid market fleecing customers, sells N95 masks for Rs 100 apiece

Thiruvananthapuram: The surge in COVID-19 cases has spiked the demand for N95 face masks, but private players have been selling the protective gear for Rs 100 and more, while it costs just Rs 15 in government-run outlets. 

The case is the same with other pandemic-related, high-demand consumables such as pulse oximeters and personal protection equipment (PPE) kits. Firms supplying them have been charging different prices due to the absence of a regulator.

The government-run SAT Drug House on the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College premises was selling N95 masks for Rs 15 apiece on Friday. The outlet had been buying it for Rs 14.80, and the company supplying the gear, has informed that the price has been hiked to Rs 17.80 from Saturday. The Drug House, too, has increased the retail price to Rs 18. 

The same firms have been supplying the masks at a higher price, about Rs 40 apiece, to private outlets, who in turn sells it for Rs 100 and above. An N95 mask could be washed and reused for at least five times. 

Meanwhile, duplicate N95 masks have hit the market. The original masks would carry the manufacturer’s name, batch number and expiry date. 

The cost of surgical face masks, which were selling for Rs 2 apiece, too, increased after the State government had instructed all to wear double masks—a cloth mask over the surgical one. The surgical masks, too, were not having a uniform price in the State. 

The Drug House, which had been selling oximeters for Rs 500 apiece, increased its price to Rs 950 after the suppliers hiked the price of the non-invasive oxygen assessing device. Oximeter, which was available for Rs 1,200 from private outlets earlier till a few days ago, has now crossed the Rs 2,500 mark. 

The SAT Drug House has been selling PPE kits for Rs 250 to Rs 270 apiece. Health workers normally use a kit for a maximum of four hours. The High Court of Kerala, on Thursday, criticized certain private hospitals for charging patients Rs 17,000 for PPE kits for two days. The court also called for a regulatory mechanism. 

The government has approved charging Rs 1,000 a kit. This package has been confined to 179 private hospitals included in the State’s Karunya healthcare scheme, the Karunya Arogya Suraksha Padhathi (KASP).

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