Mask shortage forces GPO to halt sales

Mask shortage forces GPO to halt sales

The Government Pharmaceutical Organisation (GPO) announced it will stop selling face masks to the public after it was ordered to divert its supply to shore up the heavy shortage at hospitals, according to GPO managing director Withoon Danwiboon.

BTS Skytrain passengers don face masks at Phrom Phong station. A public scare over the spread of the new coronavirus (Covid-19) is driving up demand for face masks, causing shortages at hospitals and many retail shops. Apichit Jinakul

The announcement came after the GPO was informed by the Commerce Ministry on Friday that the ministry was allocating 410,000 face masks per day to the organisation.

Their entire supply will be distributed to state-run hospitals nationwide under the public health permanent secretary office's supervision.

The GPO operates eight shops nationwide, selling medical supplies and medicines to the public.

However, now that it must deliver all of the allocated masks to hospitals which are facing a mask supply crisis due to the Covid-19 outbreak, it has no more left for retail sale, said Dr Withoon.

However, Dr Withoon said the shops are still selling sanitising products such as alcohol gels, although they must be ordered in advance online -- and only in limited quantities -- starting on Wednesday.

He said there is enough supply of hand sanitiser liquid available to go around. The GPO has the capacity to produce 200,000 tubes of alcohol gel per month and an equal amount by affiliated manufacturers.

Dr Withoon said many people have been queuing up at GPO shops to buy masks and other disinfectants in the past weeks, fueling concerns about the virus spreading at queues.

Meanwhile, Thepparak Surathannont, advisory chairman of the Drug Store Association (DSA), is urging the Department of Internal Trade (DIT) to deliver 25,000 face masks per day to the association to be further sold through their drugstores.

Citing media reports of the DIT's pledge to supply 25,000 masks to the association, Mr Thepparak said that so far the DSA has not received a single mask from the department.

The association, with its nationwide network of drugstores, is under increasing pressure from customers in light of the ongoing outbreak.

Also yesterday, the government's Thai Ku Fah webpage reported that 111 mobile units of the Thong Fah ("Blue Flag") low-priced shops will operate around the country to sell face masks. Of these, 21 will operate in Bangkok.

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