Face mask sales have surged across the globe due to overwhelming demand amid the coronavirus scare. A steep hike in prices led the government to crack down on sellers while mask exports will be required by the Trade Ministry to have a permit.
Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said Wednesday that the Board of Advertising imposed fines on nine companies for unfair price hikes. “The board examined nine companies and decided to hand down a fine of TL 104,781 ($17,215) each. We will continue examining prices, and repeat offenders will have to pay 10 times higher than the first fine they received,” she warned.
While it remains dubious whether the face masks provide protection from the deadly virus, Turkey has seen a boom in sales. Media reports say new companies flourish in the sector, and as the outbreak spread to Turkey’s neighbor Iran, prices dramatically rose. Some online sellers raised mask prices to TL 450 ($74) from TL 20 ($3.29) in a few weeks. Media outlets also point to an increase in unsafe masks sold illegally but for cheaper prices.
Pekcan said the ministry has received complaints about astronomical hikes in prices of masks and other medical equipment following the virus outbreak abroad. She asked the public to lodge complaints by calling the country's consumer hotline at 175.
Exporters are also required to apply for a preliminary permit from the ministry for mask exports, beginning Wednesday, Pekcan said. “We have no cases here, but we see new cases in our neighboring countries, in our region. As a measure, we decided to make export permits mandatory. The purpose here is to be able to meet the public demand in Turkey in case of an outbreak in our country. We need to manage the demand,” she said.
Pekcan noted that there was a 70% increase in mask sales in February. “Mask production in Turkey can meet the local demand, but we see a growing global demand. We don’t want to prevent exports, but we seek to prioritize the local demand,” she told reporters.