Face masks rerouted to China, shortage hits market

Kathmandu, January 28

With coronavirus spreading not only in China but also in other countries, the market in Nepal has witnessed shortage of face masks.

Apparently, the market is running short of N95 grade masks, which filters at least 95 per cent airborne particles, said Nawaraj Khatri, a medicine supplier in Kathmandu.

Khatri said that in a reversal of trend, masks are being supplied to China from Nepal. “Nepal imports masks from China, but now, due to the coronavirus outbreak, masks are being rerouted to the northern neighbour,” he said. “Chinese residing in Nepal are supplying masks to China and those returning from Nepal are also taking large quantities of masks with them.”

Khatri said many are buying masks at a cheaper rate here and supplying them to China at considerable profit. “There are a few Chinese buyers who seek four to five boxes, while some want to buy the entire stock.”

The exact number of masks supplied back to China is not known as the authorities concerned lack relevant data.

Yangee Fenng, who recently returned home to Xian in China, said she had taken masks with her as her family was unable to find masks. “I took 500 pieces of N95 grade masks because my family and friends couldn’t buy masks even though some of them are doctors,” she said. “Protective clothing and masks are in shortage even at hospitals inWuhan city.”

Meanwhile, sale of masks in the domestic market has also soared. “Previously, we used to sell two to three pieces of N95 grade masks per day, but now the number has shot up to 30 to 40 per day,” said Pradip Lamsal, general secretary of Hospital Pharmacist Association of Nepal. Sale of normal masks has also doubled to 200 pieces a day.

Lamsal said soaring demand may cause shortage of both N95 and normal masks in the domestic market in the future.

Dal Bahadur Bhandari, a member of Chemical and Medical Suppliers Association of Nepal, said import of masks had declined in the last 15 days due to the Chinese New Year. “The Chinese New Year had already affected import of masks, now even the existing stock is being supplied back to China,” he said.

Bhandari informed that the association had received complaints that some pharmacies had doubled the price of masks. “We will soon hold a meeting on the price hike,” he added.

Normally an N95 mask costs Rs 95, while the price of other normal masks ranges from three rupees to Rs 10 per piece.