New national hub to work on easing mask shortages

New national hub to work on easing mask shortages

A new national centre will be set up to solve the face mask crisis after earlier attempts to deal with the severe shortage failed to ensure availability.

A vendor in Pathum Thani puts up a sign saying 'We're out of eggs' at her store above trays of eggs. Demands for eggs has increased sharply leading to a spike in retail prices, which has reportedly prompted some vendors to keep them only for regular customers.  Apichit Jinakul

Surgical masks are medical "weapons" for hospital staff and people against Covid-19, so to make sure they are armed properly, a new body is required to solve a range of issues from inflated prices to export problems, Public Health spokesman Taweesin Wisanuyothin said after a meeting with the Covid-19 Administration Centre (CAC) on Friday.

The proposal for the centre was made by permanent secretary for commerce Boonyarit Kalayanamit at the CAC meeting held to consider new measures to contain the virus. The CAC is chaired by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

The scarcity of masks forced the Commerce Ministry to step in and limit their export and make them controlled items.

Yet the masks are still in short supply in hospitals, not to mention the general public who already consider them rare items.

Hoarding for resale on the black market is suspected to be a major factor behind the shortage, and demand for the items is rising as the number of infections keeps soaring.

The CAC was on Friday told to set up two panels -- one to regulate the price of medical supplies and another to solve problems related to the export of masks, Dr Taweesin, who is also CAC spokesman, said.

The ministry's Internal Trade Department said earlier it could not prohibit the export of some patented face masks manufactured under special orders from certain countries or those made under the Board of Investment's condition for shipping overseas.

"Gen Prayut is particularly interested in the export issue, instructing officials to study laws and come up with fair decisions," Dr Taweesin said.

The premier on Friday also told the Public Health Ministry, which has been given 1.5 billion baht, to become a centre to manage medical stocks and protective gear and distribute them to hospitals countrywide.

So far up to 210 suspects have been arrested as part of the government's efforts to crack down on hoarding, mostly in connection with the illegal trade of face masks, Mr Boonyarit said.

They include three people who allegedly sold eggs at inflated prices.

Meanwhile, the government is letting mobile phone networks to keep their shops in shopping centres open provided their staff follow strict measures to prevent Covid-19 transmission.

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