Panicked by the coronavirus finally making its way into Bangladesh, consumers have emptied out most department stores and super shops of cleansing products.
The Business Standard found people buying extra hand sanitisers, masks, hand wash, soaps and tissue boxes in the retail markets of both Dhaka and Chattogram.
Some people were also stocking up on oil, sugar, lentils, tea, onions, fish and other essential consumer goods to prepare to stay indoors if the virus starts spreading.
Most department stores and super shops have been stripped of hand sanitisers as shoppers rushed to stock up on the cleansing substance believed to protect against the coronavirus. According to the World Health Organisation, hand sanitisers contains 60-95 percent alcohol-based chemicals which are effective in killing the virus.
Retailers in different parts of the capital yesterday were struggling to keep an adequate stock of the cleaning substance due to poor supply, and many shoppers had to return empty-handed.
Rakib Hasan Babu, a private university student, said, "I rushed to buy a bottle of hand sanitiser just after hearing the news of coronavirus cases in our country. I went to Agora, Meena Bazar and Shwapno outlets, but all of them had run out of it."
A saleswoman at the Farmgate outlet of Agora said all 24 bottles of hand sanitiser they had on Saturday were sold out by the end of the day.
The sale of hand sanitisers was very slow before the coronavirus outbreak, said Mizanur Rahman, owner of a super shop at West Rajabazar, Farmgate.
"Earlier, I could not even sell three bottles a month. But the six bottles I had were all sold last week," he said.
Many retailers claim that they are not getting a supply because most hand sanitiser producing companies have declared that they have run out of stock.
Malik Sayeed, head of operations at Square Toiletries Ltd, told The Business Standard that the demand for hand sanitisers increased sharply amid coronavirus worries.
"We witnessed panic buying of hand sanitisers in the last few days. We have rationed the supply to avoid running out of stock," he said.
He added they have kept 100 export orders pending to ensure adequate supply for Bangladeshi people if the virus starts spreading.
The Directorate General of Drug Administration yesterday set the price of hand sanitisers and antiseptic hand rub solutions at the MRPs in a public notice.
The notice adds that the administration will take legal action against any retailer who overcharges for these products.
Retailers have been asked not to sell more than one bottle of hand sanitiser per customer, according to the notice.
According to industry insiders, hand sanitisers are sold in more than 4,000-4,500 shops across the country, with a total market value of about Tk7 crore.
Stockpiling consumer goods
Shamim Hossain, who works for a private company, was seen carrying a sack filled with five bottles of hand-wash, five bars of soaps, five boxes of tissues, 10kg of onions and other consumer goods at the Karwan Bazar market.
When asked why he was buying so many things, he responded by saying that the risk of getting coronavirus from crowded places, like markets, is too high.
"I do not want to roam around in retail markets every day. So I planned to stock up on some of the essential products."
Another buyer at the market, Shamima Akter, was also seen buying extra goods. She said she bought the extra products so that she would not have to go out too often.
Face mask prices skyrocket
There was a sharp increase in the price of face masks after news of the coronavirus infection broke yesterday.
Most shop-owners said they have no stock of masks. Only a few have a small number of surgical masks at the surgical market at BMA Bhaban in the Paltan area of Dhaka.
The price of one box of 50 surgical masks went up to Tk1,400 from just Tk500 a month ago.
Hawkers at different points in the city were seen selling a locally-made filter mask for Tk100-120. These masks were sold for Tk45 apiece even two days ago.
The Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection has started carrying out drives after the High Court yesterday ordered it to operate mobile courts to control the spiralling price of masks.
The consumer rights directorate yesterday found two pharmacies in Gulshan – Nur Pharmacy and Safabi Pharmacy – selling masks and hand sanitisers at high prices. The directorate shut down and sealed both pharmacies.
Meanwhile in Chattogram, masks, hand sanitisers and hand-wash were mostly unavailable in retail shops.
Our Chattogram correspondent reports that the shops which had the products were selling them at high prices.
Krishnonan Das, a resident of Muradpur, said, "I bought a 250ml bottle of Hexisol [antiseptic hand rub] for Tk220, although the MRP is Tk130. But I am happy because the product is unavailable in the pharmacies."
Hossain Md Imran, the assistant director of the Directorate General of Drug Administration said they will take action against retailers who are overcharging for these products.