Gov’t Takes Full Control Over Distribution of Face Masks

People line up to get a free packet of face masks at the Department of Medical Services in Nonthaburi province on March 3, 2020.
People line up to get a free packet of face masks at the Department of Medical Services in Nonthaburi province on March 3, 2020.

BANGKOK — The government on Wednesday said it will take full control over face mask distribution nationwide, due to shortages arising from the fear of coronavirus outbreak.

Commerce ministry perm-sec Boonyarit Kalayanamit said all of the 38 million pieces of face masks produced monthly across the country will be solely distributed to hospitals and the public by the ministry’s “Mask Management Center.”

“We had previously allocated 45 percent of the total production for distribution to priority users like hospitals and medical personnel,” Boonyarit said. “But we found that they are being sold online, causing shortages among those who really need them. Therefore, we have to take control.”

Read: Arrested Vendor Says She Sells 200,000 Reused Masks

The government had previously required manufactures to allocate nearly a half of all face masks produced to the government, while allowing the rest to be distributed into the market by factories themselves. Boonyarit believed that the new measure would allow high-demand face masks to be distributed more thoroughly.

“We’re not intervening in the private sector’s business activities,” Boonyarit said. “The law grants us to take full control over the management of commodities during a shortage.”

He also said that the government is considering putting a cap on the quantity each individual is allowed to have face masks in their possession following complaints of retailers exploiting the shortage by hoarding and inflating the price of face masks.

“We are putting forward this measure into the Prices of Goods and Services Commission headed by the commerce minister,” Boonyarit said. “Under this measure, those who have in possession of face masks above a predefined quantity will be required to declare to the Department of Internal Trade.”

Although details of how this measure will be enforced are yet to be announced, the official said those who violated the rule will face seven years in prison or a maximum fine of 140,000 baht.

As of Wednesday, authorities have taken legal actions against 43 retailers who profiteered the price of face masks and 21 retailers who did not display price tags, Boonyarit said.

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