The Trade Department and the Manila government have warned vendors not to jack up the price of face masks as Filipinos scramble to buy the protective gear after an ongoing eruption of the Taal Volcano blanketed many parts of Luzon with ash.
Manila Vice Mayor Honey Lacuna-Pangan said in a statement this afternoon that she will be looking into reports that prices of N95-grade masks, the type recommended by the government, have spiked. According to Lacuna-Pangan, the masks are now being sold for PHP200 apiece (about US$4), up from their original price of PHP25 (US$0.50). She also added that unscrupulous individuals have been buying the masks in bulk in order to resell them at a mark-up.
“Let’s not use this time to take advantage [of people],” the vice mayor said in Filipino, adding that businesses shouldn’t put people’s health on the line for profit. “I don’t want to see asthmatic patients being rushed to the hospital just because they can’t buy masks.”
Lacuna-Pangan added that she was tasking the Manila Bureau of Permits and the Manila Licenses Office with inspecting businesses selling N95-grade masks.
The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) likewise said in a statement today that they have dispatched teams to monitor masks’ retail prices in the market.
“Those found to have unreasonably increased their prices for gas masks, face masks and other similar items, which act is tantamount to profiteering, shall be dealt with to the fullest extent of the law,” the statement reads.
Amid the rush on masks, the country’s biggest drugstore chain, Mercury Drug, announced that it had temporarily run out of masks at various branches, but will be replenishing stocks soon. It noted, however, that “priority areas are those near Taal Volcano.”
The 75-year-old pharmacy chain assured the public that upon restocking, prices will remain the same.
The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council has warned that fine ash from Taal can cause irritation and breathing problems, especially among the elderly and children. It suggested that if N95-grade face masks were unavailable, people could cover their noses with a wet cloth or towel to avoid inhaling the ashfall. Motorists were also advised to drive carefully because wet ash can make roads slippery and cause poor visibility.
The Health Department has also urged people to stay indoors and to keep their windows and doors shut. The public is also advised to protect their skin and eyes from ashfall by wearing protective clothing and goggles.
The volcanic ash carries carbon dioxide and fluorine, which the department said may cause irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat, and can also lead to respiratory problems such as coughing and difficulty breathing.
How bad is the ashfall in your area, and what kind of protective measures are you using? Tell us in the comments below or by tweeting @CoconutsManila.