Demand for N95 face masks pushes up prices

SINGAPORE - If you bought a box of 20 masks a week ago, it would have cost you about $20. Most outlets have since run out of stock, and those that still carry them are selling them at inflated prices.

And they blame it on the suppliers.

QSS Safety Products is selling the 3M brand of N95 masks at $32 for a box of 20, compared with about $20 a box previously.

Its spokesman said: "The prices have gone up because we are taking (masks) from a different supplier. They are still 3M authentic masks, but they are from an alternative supplier because 3M does not have supply for us."

When asked for details of the other supplier, he declined to comment further.

A spokesman for Gin Huat Industrial Supplies, which was selling a box of 20 N95 masks for $42, said: "We were selling it at $28 a box before, but the cost shot up. It is beyond our control."

When The New Paper contacted 3M, its spokesman said that the company has sufficient stocks to meet the demand from retailers seeking to replenish their stock levels.

She said the current recommended retail price (RRP) for a mask ranges from $1.80 to $2.50, or $36 for a box of 20.

Asked if the price had gone up since the onset of the haze, the spokesman said no.

"3M provides RRP to our distributors, which would then communicate with the retailers. We are not in a position to manage the final retail prices," she said.

When told that retailers were previously selling the masks at lower than the RRP, the spokesman said the company would not comment on retail pricing.

When TNP went in search of N95 masks yesterday, most places across the island, including polyclinics, had run out of stock.

At Toa Payoh Central, the Unity, Guardian and Watsons outlets had sold all their masks two days ago. At any one time, at least five people were inquiring about the masks.

A Unity employee said new stocks would arrive next week, while the other two outlets were unsure of when their stocks would be replenished.

At Guardian, a waiting list for customers was 3½ pages long.

A spokesman for Watsons said it had been selling the 3M N95 masks at $3 each and would continue to do so when new stocks arrive. Asked if the supplier had raised the price, the spokesman said no.

Cash in

Cash in

The pent-up demand has prompted some people to cash in.

A Facebook post by a woman offered boxes of N95 masks at $25 each.

When contacted, she declined to say if she was profiteering and has since taken down her posting. Miss Cherie Ling, a 19-year-old student, who had been trying in vain to buy masks for her family, thinks people who hoard masks and try to resell them at higher prices are inconsiderate.

Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) executive director Seah Seng Choon said he was concerned about profiteering by both individuals and retailers.

"It is inappropriate to take advantage of the situation when everyone is currently in need of a mask," he said.

"Consumers will remember what they did, and it will not be good for their image. We call on suppliers to be transparent about their recommended retail prices, and for the consumers to shop around instead of settling for inflated prices."

NTUC FairPrice said yesterday it expected a shipment of about 2 million masks to arrive on Sunday. "We would like to assure our customers that we have been working closely with our suppliers to import more stocks," a press release said.

"(The masks will be) made available at all 115 FairPrice supermarkets, FairPrice Finest and FairPrice Xtra hypermarkets islandwide from Monday."

At a press conference yesterday, Ministry of Health medical services director Professor K. Satku said it has a stockpile of nine million masks.

The ministry said the masks should be bought only when needed, and advises the public not to hoard them.' It also encourage employers who have difficulty getting the masks for their employees to contact the Ministry of Manpower.

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