Substandard, exorbitantly priced masks flood markets

As the sale of facemasks picked up in Kashmir with the opening of businesses and commercial activities, the lax monitoring of quality of this life-saving gear puts a question mark on the measures meant to contain the spread of infection here.

Currently, almost every provisional store and pharmacist sells facemasks in Kashmir. The masks are also available for sale at roadside vendors. The prices of the masks range from Rs 5 to Rs 500. However, many experts have expressed concern over the quality of masks being sold in the market.

“Although the designs have multiplied over time, there still seems to be a lot of ambiguity over what a mask is meant to do amidst COVID19 pandemic,” a senior medico told Greater Kashmir. He said that the government had given a freehand to profiteers who were selling ‘useless pieces of fabric with straps’ at exorbitant prices.

Another doctor working at a COVID19 designated hospital said that he had observed that many attendants of COVID19 patients wearing facemasks claimed to be N95 or other respirator varieties, were on examination found to be counterfeits.

“People are conned into buying counterfeits and fake N95 masks because there is no agency to check the claims made by the seller or printed on packages,” he said.

Masks and hand sanitizers were brought under the purview of essential commodities by government of India in March this year, a move meant to regulate prices and production and stocking. However, in the first week of July, these two products were taken off the essential commodities list. With this change, the price cap as well as the cap on stock was removed.

A health official told Greater Kashmir that it was the mandate of administration and drug control organization to ensure the quality of a medical disposable item which is in mass demand currently. “But we have seen in the past, such things exist only on paper,” he said, adding that the only difference this time was that the substandard masks could prove fatal. “My observation is that a majority is wearing masks in public places these days. But are those masks effective?” he asked.

A young entrepreneur who runs an accessories shop in Srinagar and provides free masks to unmasked customers said he was astonished by the grave issue of profiteering regarding medical disposable items – masks, gloves and face shields. He said he purchased a mask for Rs 2 from a dealer, while the retailer was selling him the same for Rs 10. “How is someone allowed to escalate the prices so much?” he rued.

Deputy Controller Drugs, Irfana Ahmed said her department had ramped up the market checks and many people involved in sale of counterfeit masks had been booked in the recent past under the provisions of Drugs and Cosmetics Act.

“Initially, there was a sudden surge in demand of masks and the supply was grossly short,” she said, adding that at that time the concern was not what kind of masks were available. “Now things have changed and we have pressed our field staff into action and we are checking the quality as well as the price of these products,” she said.