YANGON—Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has issued a stern warning to anyone who would engage in price gouging on surgical masks amid a steady rise in COVID-19 cases in the country, saying she had a “zero tolerance” policy toward those who jack up prices of essential goods.
As of Sunday, 21 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Myanmar, with one fatality related to the disease
Even before the first positive case was detected in the country in late March, prices for ordinary surgical masks were beginning to skyrocket, partly due to hoarding by retailers.
Amid panic buying and shortages at pharmacies, the face coverings, which cost just 50 kyats (about 3.5 US cents) in normal times, are now fetching 10 times that amount.
At the same time, in some hospitals doctors and nurses are publicly complaining that they have been working without proper Personal Protective Equipment like facial coverings. Though the advisability of wearing masks is still being debated globally, growing numbers of people in Myanmar can be seen wearing them when venturing outdoors.
On Sunday, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi assured Myanmar people through her Facebook page that Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports had 6.3 million masks to be distributed this month, and that many more are in the pipeline.
However, the mask issue was raised with Myanmar’s de facto leader during her live videoconference on Monday with officials who are on the frontline in the fight against the disease in Bago Region, where three COVID-19 cases, including two children, were detected last week.
When Dr. Aye Nyein, a regional medical official, complained about shortages and price gouging on masks, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sternly said that raising the price when people were suffering was totally unethical.
“It’s unlawful. We have a law against [gouging and hoarding]. If there is a complaint, we will take action,” she said.
“They are playing with people’s lives for their personal interests. I have zero tolerance for it,” she added.
On March 30, Myanmar’s Ministry of Commerce imposed a ban on price gouging on food, medicines and equipment related to the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, as well as on hoarding such items, which have been declared “essential goods”.
Violators face imprisonment for six months to three years under the Special Supplies and Services Law, the ministry said.
So far, there have been no reports of anyone being prosecuted under the law.
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