Opportunity in Adversity: Is the ‘fake’ mask business thriving in Sikkim?

Opportunity in Adversity: Is the ‘fake’ mask business thriving in Sikkim?

Opportunity in Adversity: Is the ‘fake’ mask business thriving in SikkimA

GANGTOK, February 23:With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in December last year, and it is declared as a global epidemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), fear has been lurking among people worldwide. From its causes, advisories, effects and death tolls being issued every other day on multiple news channels, print and social media, this particular disease has kept the people on high alert, convincing them to believe every single information being shared without properly verifying the source. Whether one may or may not know the exact cause(s) or full preventive measures, they surely know that the first step towards combating this disease is to wear a mask.

The mask has now become an essential household item, and while its demand is rapidly increasing, so is the business of selling. There’s a sudden increase in sales of masks. Despite the state still being safe from coronavirus outbreak, people have been panicking and taking early preventive measure by getting a mask, though doctors say that there is no confirmed evidence that a mask would save people from contracting this disease.

The Periwal Brothers Medical Store at MG Marg, Gangtok, reports selling of 20,000 masks already (last 30 days). These include special face masks which cost from Rs. 250 to Rs. 450 and normal masks costing Rs. 10.

Not only the local markets but online shopping websites are flooded with buyers and sellers of masks. However, this, in a way has made a way for production and sale of fake/inferior quality masks, which may not make any difference at all to the precautionary buyers.

“There may be chances of producing and selling inferior quality masks, but we don’t have any proper agency to identify the fake and the genuine ones. However, at our store, we bring in supplies from only reputed companies”, informs Anand Periwal from Periwal Brothers Medical Store.

Sources too believe that there may be a huge scam of fake masks going on at the moment. The upsurge in the demand for masks has also resulted in the rise of their prices. Now, if we take an average of masks being sold in Gangtok in the past 30 days, it makes up to around 20-25 thousand.

Meanwhile, the demand in Sikkim is so high that it’s being unfulfilled with supply getting out of stock. Surgical masks are out of stock in almost every medical store in Gangtok.

Periwal informs that though there is a shortage of normal masks in the market, their store has made sure that they don’t run out of supply. Not only normal ones, but they too have been selling specially designed N-95 face masks.

Satyen Sikkim, another such medical store at MG Marg has run out of stock. The shop is frequently visited by marks buyers only to her disappointment. As per the store staff, there has been no supply from the supplier’s end.

According to B. Mishra, a medical shop owner in Gangtok, the demand for masks have been rising by 20% past two months.

“The demand is huge and ever-increasing, but we are unable to fulfil the demand as we are not being supplied from any of our suppliers based in Siliguri and Kolkata”, Mishra tells.

Contrary to Periwal and Mishra, Niranjan Kumar from LifeLine Medicos, one of the oldest medical stores of Gangtok, feels that there has been no difference in demand of masks, at least in their store.

“People here usually buy masks to prevent themselves from pollution. The sales here are as usual”, he says.

However, the store has run out of normal and surgical mask stock as they are not being supplied. N-95 masks are available though.

There have been reports of surgical and other specially designed masks running out of stock in countries like China and Thailand since the outbreak of coronavirus. It is said that people queue up for more than 2 – 3 hours to get a mask in these countries.

As per the pharmacists here, some people are buying masks just to send to their loved ones living abroad and where they are facing a shortage of masks.

“We normally get out supplies from Siliguri and Kolkata. But right now they have stopped taking our orders as they say they have online orders to fulfil first”, informs Ashok Khatri, owner of the Chiranjilal Pharmaceuticals, another oldest pharmacy in Gangtok.

As Sikkim Chronicle surveyed the pharmacies in and around Gangtok and enquired about the demand and supply, it was found that almost every medical store had zero stock filled.

Based as per the survey, the figure below shows the number of face masks sold by various medical stores in Gangtok in the last 30 days:

Sl. No. Name of the Medical Store Face Mask Sold 
Normal Surgical Face Mask Special N-95 Face Mask
1 Medicos (Satyen Sikkim) 100-200 Nil
2 Periwal Brothers Medical Store 2000-2500 20-50
3 Chiranjilal Medical Store 300-400 nil
4 Lifeline Medical Store 400-500 5-10
5 Sikkim Medical Mart & Company 300-400 25-30
6 Good Deal Medical Shop 200-300 Nil
7 Bansal Stores 150-250 Nil
8 Jagriti Medical Store 1000-1500 Nil
9 Green Medical Hall 800-1200 Nil
10 Shekhar Enterprise 800-1000 5-10
11 Sudhir Enterprise 600-1000 Nil
12 Orient Brothers Pharmaceuticals 500-700 3-5
13 Monika Health Care 400-600 Nil
14 Somani Enterprise Medical Store 800-900 10-15
15 Sikkim Medical Hall 900-1000 Nil
16 Sanjeevni Ridhkaran Madan Gopal Pharmaceuticals 500-800 Nil

Though people have been blindly purchasing masks with a belief that it shall save them to some extent, there are some who are doubtful.

“It’s just for precaution that we are wearing the mask, but I don’t think that the normal mask will protect us from getting infected with coronavirus”, says Rohit Thapa, a student from Gangtok.

According to Dr Pempa Bhutia, the Director-General cum Secretary of the Department of Health, Government of Sikkim, wearing a mask can be helpful.  A mask with a triple layer can be used as a precaution.

“However, if the gravity of the infection is higher, then the normal surgical mask will not help. In that case, a more specialized mask such as N-95 or any other such specially designed mask must be used”.

The N-95 respirator/mask is a bit thicker than a normal surgical mask, but since it’s costlier than the normal ones, people are opting for the cheaper masks.

“Though there is no compulsion or advisory released by the concerned department here telling to wear a mask, it is always advisable to wear one, especially when you are outdoors”, asserts Dr Pempa and also advises the people here not to panic.

When enquires about identifying the fake and genuine masks, he tells that there are such measures to differentiate. However, it is advised to wear a medically certified mask made by a reputed company and bought from a genuine medical store.

Below table show the rates of the different kinds of masks available in Gangtok

Sl. No. Type of Masks Rate per piece (in Rs.)
Old Rate New Rate
1 Normal Surgical Face Mask 5-10 10-20
2 Specially Designed N-95 Face Mask 250-350 250-350
3 Medium Face Mask 100-150 100-150

The Below Table shows the status of availability of various kinds of face masks in the market in Gangtok and the reason for unavailability.

Sl. No. Name of the Medical Store Face Mask Availability  Reason for unavailability
Normal Surgical Face Mask Special N-95 Face Mask
1 Medicos (Satyen Sikkim) Out of Stock Not Available Not available at dealers point
2 Periwal Brothers Medical Store In Stock Limited Stock Old Stock Available
3 Chiranjilal Medical Store Out of Stock Out of Stock Not available at dealers point
4 Lifeline Medical Store Limited Stock Limited Stock Old Stock Available
5 Sikkim Medical Mart & Company Out of Stock Out of Stock Not available at dealers point
6 Good Deal Medical Shop Limited Stock Not Available Old Stock Available
7 Bansal Stores Out of Stock Not Available Not available at dealers point
8 Jagriti Medical Store Out of Stock Out of Stock Not available at dealers point
9 Green Medical Hall Out of Stock Not Available Not available at dealers point
10 Shekhar Enterprise Limited Stock Not Available Old Stock Available
11 Sudhir Enterprise In Stock Limited Stock Old Stock Available
12 Orient Brothers Pharmaceuticals Out of Stock Out of Stock Not available at dealers point
13 Monika Health Care Out of Stock Not Available Not available at dealers point
14 Somani Enterprise Medical Store Limited Stock Limited Stock Old Stock Available
15 Sikkim Medical Hall Limited Stock Out of Stock Old Stock Available
16 Sanjeevni Ridhkaran Madan Gopal Pharmaceuticals Out of Stock Out of Stock Not available at dealers point