Gov’t Defends Selling Face Masks to Public

Citizens queue up to purchase face masks at a stall inside the Government House on Feb. 7, 2020.
Citizens queue up to purchase face masks at a stall inside the Government House on Feb. 7, 2020.

BANGKOK — As the government rolled out its own stalls selling face masks on Friday, netizens were enraged to discover the price is nearly five times higher than what other health agencies are offering.

Just hours after the authorities said face masks and hand sanitizers would be sold at “cost price” at Government House for the next two weeks – starting Friday morning – a Facebook user said the government’s price for face masks is 2.5 baht per piece, compared to the rate of 0.55 baht sold by the Ministry of Public Health.

“I saw the news last night and realized that the price of disposable face masks shouldn’t be that high,” Thuethan Prasobchoke wrote on his public Facebook post, which has been shared more than 3,600 times.

As evidence, he posted a photo of a ministry notice published on Jan. 29, selling face masks as little as 55 satang per piece.

“The government itself declared face masks as a price-controlled product, but now they’re raising the price 4 to 5 times of the market prices before the shortage,” Thuethan wrote. “The way they work and manage [the situation] reflects how inefficient they are in every dimension.”

But a government spokeswoman disputed the allegation, saying that a transportation cost has been added to the price of face masks sold at the Government House.

“I would like to clarify that the cost of production is higher nowadays, and since the masks will also be sold at partner shops nationwide, we have to add transportation cost into the price,” deputy spokeswoman Ratchada Thanadirek said.

“I confirm that we’re not adding any profit to the price,” she said.

Ratchada also said that the government could not afford giving away free masks to every citizen.

“Over the past few days, we worked hard to hand out the masks to citizens at different locations,” she said. “But to meet demands of every citizen, we can’t do that.”

Her statement offered little solace to the fury of netizens, especially after Thai social media discovered a Straits Times article reporting that the Singaporean government is giving out four masks to every household on the island nation for free.

“They must be the only government in the world profiting off citizens in times of crisis,” user Jureerat Kog commented.

“Something like this they said they couldn’t afford, but giving away free cash for the ‘Chim Shop Chai’ they could,” user Atthawit Rungsikun wrote, referring to a government program that handed out 1,000 baht credit for spending at participating stores.

A batch of 10,000 masks per day will be sold everyday at the government’s seat of power until Feb. 21, officials said. The daily quota of 10,000 masks sold out within half an hour after sales opened at 10am today.

A similar event will also be held at the Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Public Health in the outskirts of Bangkok, starting Saturday.