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Coronavirus crisis: No measures in place to prevent profiteering on masks, gloves, protective gear

With the panic-ridden public rushing to medical stores and outlets, prices of masks at the retail level have increased manifold in places like Delhi

twitter-logoPB Jayakumar | March 4, 2020 | Updated 02:27 IST
Coronavirus crisis: No measures in place to prevent profiteering on masks, gloves, protective gear

While more and more cases of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) are emerging in New Delhi and other parts of the country, the government is yet to cap retail prices to prevent profiteering and stocking of masks and goves. Export of 26 essential medicines has been restricted on Tuesday, though.

India has excess capacity to make adequate gloves and masks in case of an emergency. However, the government is yet to place orders for their mass procurement despite meetings held a month ago, Rajiv Nath, Joint Managing Director of Hindustan Syringes & Medical Devices and Forum Coordinator of Association of Indian Medical Device Industry (AiMeD), told Business Today.

With the panic-ridden public rushing to medical stores and outlets, prices of masks at the retail level have increased manifold in places like Delhi. It is essential to cap its retail prices to ensure wider access to masks and other related essentials, he said. "We have been recommending the government for the last four weeks to create a stockpile but no major Request for Quote (RFQ) other than an air shipment to China as a goodwill gesture happened so far," he said.

In January, the government had banned export of all personal protection equipment, including clothing and masks, as part of India's preparedness to face the coronavirus threat. Later it allowed export of surgical masks and gloves, except synthetic rubber ones, from the list of banned items.

"A meeting organsied by the Engineering Export Promotion Council (EEPC) and to be attended by Union Minister for Railways, Commerce and Industry, Piyush Goyal to discuss the exports and imports, was cancelled today", Nath said. He added that AiMeD was planning to propose how this problem could be converted into a Make in India opportunity to place India as the second factory to the world for medical devices. Another planned suggestion was to take measures to protect Indian consumers by monitoring MRP labelling on imports and trade margins over import-landed prices. The government could consider capping of trade margins or MRP of the imported products.

As per the data available with AiMeD, the umbrella association of Indian manufacturers of medical devices, the country has about 22 manufacturers of masks and coveralls with a capacity of 222.5 million pieces of three-layer masks per annum, 15.6 million two-layer masks per annum and 3.7 million pieces per annum of coveralls. These domestic manufacturers have a spare capacity to make an additional 55 million pieces per annum of three-layer masks and 7.2 million pieces per annum of two-layer masks. The 30 odd manufacturers of gloves, have a capacity of 2 billion pieces, with 18 per cent spare capacity (300 million). Of the current production of 1.7 billion pieces, 44 per cent or 753 million pieces were exports.

He said the country may face shortage of examination gloves as India imports about 1.8 billion examination gloves from countries such as Malaysia, Thailand and China. With the coronavirus crisis ballooning in these countries, India may not be able to import the gloves from them. The current Indian market for gloves is estimated to be over four billion pieces, of which half are surgical gloves and 45 per cent are examination gloves. Latex free nitrile gloves, generally used in the food industry, constitute about 5 per cent and there are only 4-5 manufacturers with limited capacities.

"In the case of an emergency, in addition to over 5.5 lakh pieces of masks being sold daily, another two lakh pieces per day can be easily supplied by the Indian manufacturers. The spare capacity is huge in the sector as most manufacturers were finding it difficult to compete with the Chinese in the international markets," said Nath.

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