Why Are Masks Always “Out Of Stock” At Pharmacies?
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Malaysia Mask Matters
You must be wondering, why is it that almost ALL pharmacies in Malaysia are out of face masks. There are more than 2500 community pharmacies in Malaysia, so how on earth did the stock for masks get depleted at such as alarming rate? And what’s taking them so long to restock?
1) Operation Shutdown in China
China is the biggest face mask manufacturer in the world. It is estimated that their daily capacity production capacity lies around 20 million pieces, but by the estimate of its manufacturers domestic demand alone is around 50 to 60 million per day. When the coronavirus first spread, many factories and manufacturers had to stop their operations. This led to a massive dip in production.
According to a report by the Star, some pharmacies obtain their supplies from manufacturers in China. And since the outbreak, these manufacturers have put their operations on hold amidst the initial lockdown. So, these pharmacies will have to switch to local manufacturers. This, however, comes at a higher cost as they had to deal with a low volume of production against higher costs of manufacturing.
This ordeal is not only faced by us here in Malaysia. Shortages in Germany, Italy, Canada and the UK have also led to an extreme hike in mask prices. A piece of mask can go up to $3.25 a piece!
Mask production has now resumed in China and is higher than ever before. Most factories, according to authority, are running at 110% capacity. They are now producing 10 times the amount of face masks compared to early February. Many companies have also turned to manufacturing facemasks in order to meet the high demands. (Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/13/business/masks-china-coronavirus.html)
However, they are currently supplying most of their products to their local markets as they too grapple with the coronavirus. They have now increased their exports due to pressure from other nations.
The recent shipment of aid from the China Embassy to Hospital Sungai Buloh is a sign of that and hopefully many more ensues.
2) Hoard buying
We Malaysians are not the only guilty ones here, as we see many people around the world hoard on essential items such as face masks, canned food, rice and noodles, and toilet papers. Panic buying can be harmful to emergency situations like this especially to the population who are most vulnerable.
Before the number of infected patients spiked, Ms Lai, a community pharmacist commented that her shop averaged about 100 boxes of masks per day. She added that some even bought for their friends who are staying overseas.
3) Exportations to other countries
One of the main reasons why this shortage persisted despite government’s efforts in encouraging local mask manufacturers to ramp up production, is that these manufacturers would rather export the masks to other countries.
Why? Because of the ceiling prices.
Price controlled items such as face masks have a ceiling price implemented by the government to prevent profiteering by different parties. According to the Domestic Trade and Consumers Affairs Ministry, this falls under the Price Control and Anti-Profiteering Act 2011. This said ceiling price was already implemented as early as end of 2019 during the haze season.
This means that manufacturers can only supply their products to retail stores at a capped price, and this can be far less lucrative compared to exportation. With the recent lift on ceiling prices, hopefully manufacturers will divert their stocks to the local market.
The ministry has also recently banned all export of face masks to other countries.
We hope this helped to shed some light on the mask shortage phenomenon in Malaysia. Help to spread awareness and reduce hoarding by sharing this article!