DTI, NBI to go after unscrupulous online sellers

THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the National Bureau of Investigation will run after online sellers taking advantage of the 2019 novel coronavirus acute respiratory disease (2019-nCoV-ARD) scare by manipulating prices of face masks.

Online sellers on social media platform Facebook, under its Marketplace feature, have cropped up, trading surgical masks for as much as P1,000 per box.

In Cebu City, Councilor Dave Tumulak urged the public not to purchase masks if “they are healthy enough.”

“I know everyone is just trying to protect themselves, but we have to prioritized our health providers who need it the most as they are at the forefront in fighting against this threat. We also have to prioritize those who are sick because they are the most vulnerable in acquiring a disease,” he said.

In major online shopping platforms like Lazada and Shopee, surgical and N95 masks continue to be sold out with consumers buying masks in bulk.

“On the basis of a price freeze on disposable face masks by the Department of Health and on the recent declaration of the World Health Organization, the DTI is on alert for profiteers, hoarders, cartels and the like for taking advantage of the situation by selling face masks at an unfair and unconscionable price,” the DTI Cebu said in a statement.

Consumers lamented the sudden price surge of masks since the Taal Volcano eruption and the coronavirus threat.

According to the DTI Cebu, disposable masks should only sell between P1.10 and P8, while prices of N95 masks should only range from P45 to P105.

Some sellers posted suggested retail price but when buyers contacted them, they declared a much bigger price, according to some complaints posted on social media.

DTI 7 Director Asteria Caberte said establishments caught overpricing face a maximum fine of P300,000.

“The DTI, in coordination with the Department of Health and the National Coordinating Council, will do to the fullest extent of the law to prosecute them,” she said.

A store inside a mall in Consolacion, northern Cebu sold surgical masks at P5 each, but a person could only buy 20 pieces per day. The management said it wants to make masks available to anyone in need.

The Cebu City Government mulls to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks, gloves, protective suits and thermal guns, to personnel of the Bureau of Quarantine, Department of Health, Cebu City Medical Center and Cebu City Health Office.

Since the City is set to purchase more than 1,000 PPE for these agencies, extra masks will be distributed to the public, especially to those who are sick, said Mayor Edgardo Labella.

The challenge of the City now is looking for a store capable of supplying them with a bulk order, said Tumulak.

Both Labella and Tumulak did not disclose the amount for the purchase, but the budget will be sourced from the City’s unused disaster trust fund. (JOB, JJL)