by Nghinomenwa Erastus

PROVIDERS of healthcare and hygiene products, including distributors, pharmacies and supermarkets have hiked prices of essential products in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak hindering the fight against the spread of the pandemic.

UNSCRUPULOUS … Pharmacies and retailers are taking advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic in realising abnormal margins on essential products that are deemed important in fighting the spread of the virus. The retailers have hiked the prices of hand sanitisers, masks, immune boosters to unreasonable prices, taking advantage of the high demand created by the pandemic.

The inflated prices have compromised hygiene standards as the affordability of these essential products gets beyond the reach of financially squeezed households.

According to a Namibia Competition Commission (NaCC) analysis, the price of three essential products had shot up as demand rose.

The NaCC observed that “the pricing of immune boosters have almost doubled while hand sanitisers increased by almost 300%, 3-ply mask prices increased by 31% while the price of N95 masks shot up by more than 600%”.

This follows the World Health Organization (WHO) issuing of a range of guidelines in March to the public on basic protection measures against Covid-19 together with recommendations of usage of masks and hand sanitisers and encouraged individuals to maintain good health. In addition to hand sanitisers and masks, immune boosters are also considered a necessary measure against the Covid-19 outbreak.

The assessment shows that the price of immune boosters increased by between N$104 and N$200 at various pharmacies. While for hand sanitizers of 100ml before the Covid-19 outbreak cost around N$20, that price has since more than doubled to N$44 at most pharmacies.

“In some cases, sanitisers of similar size are selling for as much as N$75,” shows the report.

With masks (N95 and 3ply), the commission discovered that before the pandemic, masks sold for about N$10 per piece for a 3-ply type and N$100 each for the N95 version. However, yesterday the commission said retailers are selling the masks at N$75 (3-ply) and N$230 (N95).

Apart from the call for collective measures in solidarity as nobody should be blamed for the pandemic, the Competition Act prohibits such excessive and exploitive pricing. The act prohibits excessive pricing and collusive behaviour through price-fixing by retailers and suppliers.

The commission said penalties for such conduct are severe and may attract a fine of 10% of a shop’s turnover.

The commission has warned unscrupulous retailers that inflated prices threaten affordability and in a way hinder the fight against the pandemic.

“All retailers of these essential products are therefore warned against exploiting consumers through artificially inflated prices,” the commission warned.

NaCC further urged consumers to immediately report any unusual increase in prices by suppliers and retailers during this period of national crisis.

“In an effort to protect consumers from the continued price exploitation, the commission has under its Enforcement, Exemptions & Cartels Division set up a dedicated team to ensure prioritisation of complaints on all essential healthcare and hygiene products during this critical time,” the commission said.

The commission added that they will be working with the ministry of trade to provide consumers with the quickest and most effective protection against continued price exploitation.

NaCC also said they are in discussions with the government to ensure that competition law enforcement does not impede necessary cooperation between businesses to deal with the current crisis and ensure the security of supply.

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