Amid Chinese Flu Fears, Mandalay Goes Without Masks While Dealers Make Profits
By Zarni Mann 30 January 2020
Mandalay – As concerns over the coronavirus rise, pharmacies and medical stores in Mandalay are facing shortages of surgical masks.
Mandalay receives the highest number of Chinese arrivals by air or overland, making the city particularly vulnerable to the virus. It is also a Chinese business hub with the largest jade market in the country, attracting many Chinese gem traders. The shortage of masks in Mandalay’s stores seems to suggest that, given the deadly virus’ Chinese origins, the city in Myanmar that is most frequented by Chinese visitors isn’t taking any chances.
Surgical masks are almost out of stock and the prices have reached 10 times the normal level in Mandalay.
“Surgical masks have been out of stock since Monday. We’ve put in an order but the company has stock shortages,” said the owner of a major pharmacy near Mandalay General Hospital.
“Usually, we sell a pack of 100 surgical masks for 2,300 kyats [US$1.70]. But now some medical stores which still have stocks sell them for 25,000 kyats [$17] for 100 masks,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Another pharmacy also said prices were rising and stocks were depleting.
The pharmacies said brokers, rather than residents, were buying up masks.
“We’ve faced this situation when there were outbreaks of Sars, H1N1, swine flu and avian flu. Retailers bought the masks in large numbers, only to store them and to sell them back when stocks have gone and to profit from the crisis,” said a pharmacy owner.
The 10-piece pack of surgical masks used to sell for 700 kyats with prices now reaching 7,000 kyats ($4.80).
The N95 respirators – the recommended mask which prevents the spread of the virus – usually cost around 1,000-1,500 kyats ($0.68-1) each but they currently cost about 9,000-12,000 kyats ($6-8) and stocks are very low.
But few Mandalay residents appear concerned about the virus that has so far killed 170 people in China, according to the official estimates. Mandalay’s markets, shopping malls and parks remain crowded with many people not wearing masks.
The price of sanitizing hand gel and disinfectant liquid is unchanged and supplies are still plentiful.
When asked, people said no cases had been reported in the country. The Ministry of Health and Sport reported this week that there were no suspected cases in Myanmar.
The ministry has told the public to avoid crowded areas, to wear masks when going out or if sick and to wash their hands properly to prevent infection.
“We only heard there is an outbreak in China, not here, so we thought we did not need to worry. We do not have masks and do not want to wear them,” said Ma Aye Aye Tint, a grocery store owner at Mandalay’s Phayagyi market.
Mandalay author Hsu Nget said awareness of the coronavirus was high but few followed the instructions from the Ministry of Health to prevent infections.
“Concerns and fears over the coronavirus are only on social media. On the ground, there is little use of proper hygiene. Few wear masks as it is inconvenient,” said Hsu Nget.
He added that more needed to done to raise awareness about preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
“No coronavirus cases have been reported and there are few educational programs at the regional level, meaning residents’ concerns are very low,” Hsu Nget added.
The Chinese health authorities said Wednesday there were 7,711 confirmed cases in China. The virus has so far spread to Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Vietnam, France and the United States.
Thailand has about 14 confirmed cases and India said today that the virus had been diagnosed in a student who recently came back from Wuhan, where the outbreak began.
There were reportedly about 670 suspected cases in India.
China said there were two confirmed cases at Ruili, the town bordering Muse in northern Shan State.
Civil society organizations said they were ready to work with the regional government on educational programs and in other measures to address the threat of the virus.
The Mandalay regional government said a surveillance team had been formed to observe arrivals and it would cooperate with community organizations.
“Once the government gives the green light, we will begin the educational programs and distribute handouts in crowded areas,” said U Kyaw Hein, a duty officer from the Chanmya Shwepyi Social Volunteer group.
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