The coronavirus threat is drastically increasing the demand for face masks almost everywhere in the world. And evidently, the epidemic has become a hotbed for opportunists capitalising on public anxieties.On Monday, March 2, Thai police raided a second hand goods store in Saraburi, a province northeast of Bangkok, and found six workers recycling and reselling face masks. They put the face masks in a washing machine before ironing and repackaging them in boxes for sale.
According to one of the workers, they would get 1 baht (approx. $0.03) for every mask they recycled. They would do this to 300 to 400 masks every day, The Nation reported. During the raid, authorities found entire sacks of used face masks. They estimated that there were tens of thousands of face masks being processed at the store.The face masks were confiscated by authorities to have their origins investigated. The workers allegedly received the worn face masks from a dealer. The shop owner later claimed that she has sold up to 200,000 recycled masks on Facebook, priced at 3 baht (approx. $0.10) each.Thailand recorded its first coronavirus death on Saturday, Feb 29. There are now 47 infection cases, 31 of whom have recovered. The outbreak has pushed people to hoard, leading to a shortage of face masks.
On Wednesday, March 4, the Thai government announced that it would be fully responsible for face mask distribution across the country. A “Mask Management Centre” under the Ministry of Commerce will be in charge of the distribution of face masks.Previously, face mask manufacturers could directly sell their products in the market after supplying half of them to the government. However, the sudden surge in demand for face masks has led to shortages and inflation.In early February, the Thai government listed face masks as a price-controlled product. However, retailers still found ways to exploit the face mask shortage. As of Wednesday, March 4, authorities found 43 retailers who were overcharging for face masks.
But even some of those who managed to get face masks amid the shortage said they don’t feel protected against the coronavirus.One Twitter user posted a photo of her face mask which was so thin that you can actually see her hand underneath it.
But Thailand isn’t the only victim of opportunistic behaviour in the face of a public health crisis.In other countries, goods like face masks and hand sanitisers are also the weapons of rampant profiteering. For example, in the US, the price of two bottles of hand sanitisers can go up to $149, while a single container of disinfecting wipes is going for $58.84 including shipping.In China, rumours of unethical retailers recycling used face masks prompted netizens to come up with ways to foil their plan, such as cutting used masks up or tainting them with ink before disposing of them.Correction 03/09/20: This article previously stated that 3 baht is equivalent to $1. It is actually equivalent to $0.10. We regret the error.Find Koh Ewe on Instagram.