Following Criticism, Cabinet Puts Price Control on Face Masks

A sign posted in front of a drug store near Siriraj Hospital telling customers that face masks and hand sanitizers are sold out on Feb. 5, 2020.
A sign posted in front of a drug store near Siriraj Hospital telling customers that face masks and hand sanitizers are sold out on Feb. 5, 2020.

BANGKOK — The government on Tuesday placed face masks and hand sanitizers on the price control list in response to complaints of retailers profiteering from the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

The price of face masks, alcohol-based hand sanitizing products, and polypropylene fabrics used in the production of face masks came under oversight of the Ministry of Commerce, according to a government order published on Tuesday – just hours after the Prime Minister dismissed criticism over mask shortages.

“Once they become controlled products, the Department of Internal Trade can put a curb on the price and stock volume,” commerce minister Jurin Laksanawisit said. “We can order companies to declare production cost, volume, and stock to ensure the availability of face masks and sanitizers.”

He said the decision came after the hike in demand for face masks in the wake of the coronavirus epidemic. Domestic demand for face masks rose from 30 million pieces to 40-50 million pieces per month, Jurin said.

Worsening air pollution in parts of Thailand also appears to contribute to the rising demand.

Tuesday’s government order authorized officials to limit the number of purchases of face masks and hand sanitizers per customer, demand retailers to sell them on recommended retail prices, or order distributors to hand them out to areas affected by scarcity.

Under the order, officials may also choose to ban exporting more than 500 face masks out of the country without prior approval. Violators face up to seven years in prison or a 140,000 baht fine.

However, commerce minister Jurin said these measures would only be rolled out if the situation becomes worse.

“We will consider these measures once the order is in effect,” Jurin said. “It’s only a short-term solution. Once the situation becomes normal, we will withdraw it immediately.”

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha had earlier dismissed reports of face mask shortages, saying that the claims are unfounded.

“The Ministry of Commerce confirmed to me that supplies of maks are not running low,” Prayut told reporters Tuesday. “If anyone found an expensive mask, just call the hotline so they can make arrests. Floating claims like this doesn’t make anything better.”