The price of a box of 50 surgical masks now sells for Tk500, up from only Tk60 a few days ago
Md Hossain's impatient wait came to an end.
Since getting on a bus, the salesman bound for his destination at a mobile phone accessories shop in the capital had been looking to and fro to buy a face mask to protect himself against possible germ infections.
A hawker got on his bus to sell different types of face masks to the passengers. Hossain wanted to buy two pieces of medical mask but the hawker claimed Tk25 for each pair. The regular price of two pieces of surgical mask is Tk10 in Bangladesh.
Having been unhappy, Hossain did not buy the masks from the hawker. After getting down in Shahbag, he went to different pharmacies to buy a disposable mask but the shops were already out of stock. He ended up with buying a locally-made cotton mask from the footpath for Tk20.
Since the new strain of coronavirus hit China and has subsequently been infecting people globally, the demand for face masks has increased in Dhaka on a belief that masks will protect against the deadly viral infection.
Even then, face mask sales have gone up in the market and, consequently, the price at the retail level has shot up by over 150-200 percent.
Md Juel, a sales associate at the Swiss Pharma at Kalabagan, said, before the virus outbreak, they would sell 2-3 boxes of medical mask per day (each box with 50 pieces).
Now, the daily demand at their shop is 5-10 boxes but they cannot sell the item because of the shortage in the wholesale market.
Nahidul Islam, Lazz Pharma's sales associate at the same area, said, "The demand for any type of face mask is high at present, but we currently have no stock of N95 or PM2.5 respirators."
Usually, the shop used to sell 2-3 pieces of this sort of filtering respirators. But as soon as the coronavirus broke out in China, those masks were sold out within a week from their shop.
"Now, we have only disposable masks. Currently the price of masks is high in the wholesale market and there is also a shortage in the item," Nahidul said.
The wholesale price of masks has increased by over 700 percent in Dhaka. Most of the wholesale medical equipment markets in the capital have no stock of face masks, be it a surgical mask, PM2.5 or N95 types.
During a visit to the Aziz Cooperative Medicine and Medical Equipment Market at Shahbag, it was seen that there was no face mask of any type in the wholesale market.
Hridoy Mahmud, a wholesaler in the market, said, "The price of a box of 50 masks has gone up to Tk500 while it was only Tk60 a few days ago."
China is the biggest exporter of face masks, with over 80 percent share in the global market. Also, the majority of the masks used in Bangladesh are imported from China.
"As they [China] stopped exporting masks to other countries after the virus outbreak in that country, we have been facing a mask crisis now," said Mohammad Akram Hossain, a former president of the BMA Bhaban Dokan Malik Kallan Samiti, one of the biggest wholesale hubs for the medical equipment located at Purana Paltan in the capital.
There are some local mask-producing companies but they cannot fulfill the current demand, he added.
Wholesalers alleged that unscrupulous hoarders have bought all face masks from both retail and wholesale markets and created an artificial crisis. This has triggered the price.
"These masks are now in the hands of hawkers. Dishonest traders have the masks sold in the market by hawkers," said wholesaler Md Elias Laskar, the owner of the Elias Enterprise at the BMA Bhaban market.
Medicine Specialist Dr Lelin Choudhury said the increased tendency among the people about wearing masks to be protected against coronavirus has no logical base.
"These masks cannot save anyone from virus attacks. Floating viruses that have already accumulated on the masks from outside may affect the people even at home," he said.
"Also, no patient infected by coronavirus has been detected in Bangladesh. So, people need not panic now. Masks could be used to be safe from sand and pollution but not from virus," he added.