Coronavirus outbreak: Chemists in Mumbai spike face mask prices; cheap ones passed off as N95 ones

Updated: 07 March, 2020 08:56 IST | Faizan Khan, Vishal Singh, Anurag Kamble | Mumbai

mid-day finds chemists selling N95 respirators at three times the price, while others pass off surgical masks as the real thing

Janta Medical and General stores, Bhandup West, handed over an industrial mask to this mid-day reporter saying it worked just like the N95. Pic/ Rajesh Gupta
Janta Medical and General stores, Bhandup West, handed over an industrial mask to this mid-day reporter saying it worked just like the N95. Pic/ Rajesh Gupta

With 31 confirmed cases of Coronavirus in India, chemists in the city are making the most of the situation. A test drive by mid-day found that N95 respirators, which filter at least 95 per cent of air-borne particles, are being sold at upto thrice the normal price. Some were found passing off surgical masks as N95 at high rates

The N95 respirator face mask, which is considered highly effective in preventing viral infections, is hardly manufactured in India. There has been a spurt in the demand for it since the Coronavirus outbreak.

The test drive has revealed that the N95 respirators, which are usually priced at Rs 120, are being sold at anything between Rs 300 to Rs 500. Some of the chemists are even selling surgical masks and other respirators as N95 claiming they work in a similar manner, and some were even found selling inferior quality masks. The demand for disposable surgical masks has also increased manifold. The ones that usually cost Rs 10 are now available for Rs 40. Many chemists have run out of stock and have also put up boards informing customers about the same. Some of them were even found fleecing customers by selling them inferior quality masks. It has also been found that several manufacturers are selling the N95 respirators at higher MRP to chemists. Prices of sanitisers have also increased.

Some of the manufacturers are selling the N95 respirators to shops at high MRP. PICs/NIMESH DAVE, anurag ahire, suresh karkera, rajesh guptaSome of the manufacturers are selling the N95 respirators to shops at high MRP. Pics/Nimesh Dave, Anurag Ahire, Suresh Karkera, Rajesh Gupta

mid-day visited a number of stores across the city to find out the reason behind the sudden surge in prices.

Case studies

Kanjur Chemist, Kanjur Marg station road (West)

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The chemist said, "Masks are available in the black market, but their prices are steep. People won't be able to buy, so we are not keeping them."

Samrat Medical and General Stores, Goregaon East

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Even here the N95 respirator was not available but the pharmacist said, "The N95 respirators are out of stock and everyday hundreds of customers enquire about them. But we have several other masks available for Rs 220, Rs 225 and Rs 60, respectively. The prices are high due to the Coronavirus alert, otherwise you would have got these masks at just Rs 60 or Rs 70." The reporter purchased an FFP2 respirator for Rs 220, the online price for which is Rs 80.

Samrathdhara Chemist, Vikhroli East

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When asked for an N95 respirator, the shop owner said, "We have green masks which can be used for a day or two. The N95 respirators have disappeared from the market since the past three to four days and now people are ready to pay even Rs 500 for it."

Jain Medical Store, Bora Bazar, Fort

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Though N95 respirators were available here, the pharmacist at the store said, "The N95 respirators cost Rs 70-Rs 80 but you have to pay Rs 250 as the demand is high. Or else you can buy disposable masks which are available for Rs 10 each."

Maruti Chemist and General Store, Mulund East

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The store owner said that he ran out of N95 stock almost a week ago. "We have surgical masks for Rs 90. People are buying it, as the N95 ones are not available. Many people are calling and enquiring about the same but N95 is not available in the whole of Mulund," he added.

Sahkar Medical, Dadar East

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Here the N95 respirators were available but at a higher price. When asked, the pharmacist said, "The price of N95 respirators has increased due to heavy demand and currently we are selling them for Rs 300 each." When questioned about the high price, he said, "The retailers have increased the rate. We purchased these for Rs 270 each. We don't have an option. Everyone is selling them at the same price." Though the reporter purchased one for Rs 300, the shopkeeper refused to give a bill.

Mahaveer Medical and General Store, Andheri East

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Here the N95 respirators were not available but the shopkeeper said, "The N95 ones are out of stock but the FFPI respirator has the same features and is available for Rs 120." The same respirator is available for Rs 30-Rs 40 online. However, the chemist gave a handwritten bill after the reporter bought one.

Honeybell chemist store at Lohar Chawl, Marine Lines

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When the mid-day reporter asked for an N95 respirator, the pharmacist at the shop said, "It's available and the current price is Rs 300." On being questioned about the high price, he said, "The retailers are selling them at a higher rate to us, so we don't have an option. We are giving original bills to customers mentioning the same price." Though the bill provided by the shop mentions N-95, the mask has FFP2 written on it.

Janta Medical and General Store, Village Road, Bhandup West

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The salesman at the counter said N95 respirators were not available, but offered the reporter an industrial mask (having ISI mark) for Rs 100. "This mask works just like N95. We only have five of these left. Take it if you want," he said. When asked when the N95 respirators would be available, he said, "They are not available in the
market. Can't say when they will be back."

Identify an N95 respirator

  • Example of exterior markings (Approval holder business name. If privately labelled, the private label name or logo will be there instead of the approval holder business name)
  • NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) name in block letters or an NIOSH logo
  • Filter designation — NIOSH filter series Alpha-numerical rating followed by filter efficiency level (example, P100, N95)
  • TC approval number
  • Model number
  • Lot number

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First Published: 07 March, 2020 07:23 IST

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