The state health department in June fixed a cap on retail prices of 15 essential medical items used in Covid-19 care. Accordingly, N95 masks and surgical masks can’t be sold over Rs 22 and Rs 5 per piece respectively.
In the first few weeks, medical stores in the capital city strictly adhered to the new pricing system. But some stores claimed that they ran out of stock and sold only premium brands. Nearly two months down the line as the number of Covid-19 cases has come down, the situation has turned worse.
Many retailers don’t pay heed to the government order now, according to a status check by TOI at half-a-dozen pharmacies in Adyar, Kotturpuram, Velachery, Adambakkam and Madipakkam on Friday.
These standalone drug stores offer masks in two qualities. Customers, who buy masks at government-fixed rates, are provided with items of ordinary quality. Others, who demand better quality, are made to pay double or three times more.
On an average, N95 and surgical masks were sold at Rs 40-60 and Rs 7-10 respectively. One medical store in Velachery actually sold N95 masks at Rs 100 per piece. When asked about this, the druggist claimed that the elastic straps in Rs 22 masks could break easily, or threads could loosen soon.
Maximum Retail Prices (MRPs) were not printed on wrappers of some masks, but few others had a higher MRP printed on them.
Face shields and some brands of hand sanitisers were sold at a 25 % to 60% higher cost. When contacted, a senior official from the Tamil Nadu Drug Control Department said that they conducted frequent raids at pharmacies in the city recently, but they did not come across such complaints. He, however, assured to take action against stores, which TOI visited on Friday.
Commenting on it, KK Selvam from Tamil Nadu Chemists and Druggists Association said that they have advised all their member-stores to adhere to the government order. Stores sell items at the price fixed by the manufacturers. Some additional technical specifications could result in a higher retail cost, he said.