The sale — and prices — of masks shot up in Mumbai on the fear of swine flu.
Manufacturers and retailers struggled to meet the demand, while some hiked up prices to cash in. “The cost of the ‘N95’ mask is Rs 35 to Rs 100, the three-layered one costs Rs 4 to Rs 6, while the two-layered one costs Rs 2 to Rs 3. Now, there is a shortage of masks,” said Nitin Maniar, joint secretary, Retail and Dispensing Chemists’ Association, Mumbai.
The N95 is now selling at Rs 300 to Rs 450, the two-layered mask is going for Rs 5 to Rs 8 and the three-layered one is selling at Rs 15 to Rs 19.
Ketan Kaker (37), of Eastman Industries, one of the largest distributors of three-layered masks in Mumbai, said: “In the last fortnight, I supplied lakhs of masks while earlier it used to be a few thousands every month. I have no stocks now.”
Prem Kanojia, owner of Laxmi General and Medical Stores at Arthur Road, said: “Earlier, we would keep 10 masks, but on Thursday we got a fresh stock of 100 masks which has already been sold.”
Shops were battling shortage of supply. “If we order 1,000 masks, we get only 200,” complained a chemist near Sion Hospital. The state government appealed to citizens not to use masks unless they are in direct contact with swine flu patients. “We appeal to people to use their own handkerchiefs; it’s more hygienic. The N95 should be used only by those in direct contact with patients,” said Sharwaree Gokhale, additional chief secretary, public health and family welfare.
A large handkerchief, which can be folded four times into a small square, should be used to cover the nose and mouth in public.