Mask supply crisis looms

Mask supply crisis looms

Recent images of people waiting in a long queue to buy face masks are a warning sign about a potential crisis concerning the Covid-19 outbreak, which reflects poor management by the government.

Previously, Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit assured the public there would be no shortage of face masks because total production capacity outpaces demand.

Unfortunately, many areas have encountered a scarcity of face masks, resulting in inflated prices.

Despite the government designating face masks as a controlled product with a fixed price of 2.5 baht a piece, fewer people are finding them sold at that price range. In fact, most people pay 15-30 baht for each mask.

Currently, not only is the public suffering from the mask shortage, but also hospitals. Several medical professionals have complained on social media about the shortage of face masks.

Given that that Thailand soon may enter the third stage of the Covid-19 outbreak, in which a growing number of those infected have no record of contact with people from China, other risk countries or have no history of travelling to those countries, the shortage of face mask needs to be solved urgently.

Early last month, the government responded to the shortage problem by selling at Government House 20,000 face masks at a price of 25 baht per 10-piece pack.

The products sold out in an hour. The government may see this one-off measure as a success. But that measure helped just a small group of people. It was just a PR stunt which has not solved the problem at all.

Critics have questioned the cause of the shortage and capability of the government and the Commerce Ministry to deal with the problem.

Mr Jurin earlier said there are 10 large factories that produce face masks in Thailand with a combined production capacity of 100 million masks per month.

Meanwhile, domestic demand for masks without factoring in the Covid-19 outbreak is usually 30 million, he said, insisting the situation would be manageable even if demand rose to 50 million in the wake of the outbreak.

The Commerce Ministry's Office of the Central Committee on the Price of Goods and Services recently issued an announcement demanding producers distribute and sell not less than 50% of their masks to the Internal Trade Department's centre of face mask management, at a price of not more than 2 baht a piece.

After that, the centre will re-sell the masks to consumers nationwide at a cheaper price.

But Vichai Pochanakit, director-general of the Internal Trade Department, said on Thursday only 500,000 face masks are supplied to the centre each day, or 15 million pieces a month -- only half of the usual domestic demand before the outbreak. With the outbreak ongoing, shouldn't the demand be higher?

What has happened? Where are the rest of the products?

Why have the authorities failed to force producers to supply more face masks to meet the actual, current demand? Haven't the manufacturers been forced to increase their production capacity already?

It is unacceptable the government has let the shortage of masks eventuate, not to mention the inflated prices which result when production capacity is incapable of meeting demand.

Whenever the country declares the third stage of the outbreak, there will be a crisis in the supply of face masks lying in wait if the government still cannot get its management act together.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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