Face masks are only for those who have been infected with H1N1 or show symptoms of the disease, union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said on Thursday in a bid to stem panic buying.
"Face masks are not for everyone but for people who have flu like symptoms," Azad told reporters as India reported its 19th death due to the influenza A (H1N1) virus that has affected 1,193 people. Of these, 589 have been discharged after treatment.
According to Azad, those who have the infection should stay at home.
"People who have swine flu symptoms should consult a doctor and take proper precautions. They should limit their communication and remain at home to avoid the virus from spreading."
The panic buying of masks has led to a shortage in the market. There have been reports of many chemists hoarding them and then selling them at exorbitant rates.
Responding to the media reports, the union health ministry Wednesday held a meeting with state drug controllers and asked them to take strict action against those who are hoarding the masks and selling Tamiflu illegally. Tamiflu, which is one of the two anti-influenza drugs available, is only available at state-run government hospitals.