New ceiling price for face masks unnecessary and ambiguous, pharmacists say

It will only encourage lower-grade face masks to be imported, produced or sold, Amrahi says

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by BLOOMBERG

LOWERING the ceiling price for face masks from RM1 to 70 sen per unit is unnecessary and ambiguous because it only encourages lower-grade face masks to be imported, produced or sold.

Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS) president Amrahi Buang said the new ceiling price is affecting community pharmacies because they have ordered the stock at a higher price.

He said this is not the first time the government is doing this as community pharmacists were affected back in February and August.

Although the objective is to ease the burden of the people, Amrahi stressed that the government should also consider community pharmacists, especially in Sabah and Sarawak.

He said the government should have given more time, and suggested for the new price to take effect from Dec 1.

The government’s decision will mostly affect the independent pharmacies which make up 70% of the community pharmacy sector.

“MPS is extremely disappointed with the government and has written on so many occasions about this issue, yet the voices of the pharmacists as the true healthcare professionals have been ignored,” said Amrahi.

“Since Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (KPDNHEP) Minister Datuk Seri Alexander Nanta Linggi took office, his ministry has not gotten retailers like community pharmacists involved.

“Should the price be the same for peninsula, Sabah and Sarawak? How about logistics issues?” he asked.

He also questioned why the government was discussing one-ply and two-ply face masks, when the three-ply type is the recommended one.

“After all, the market has so many three-ply masks which are cheaper than the one-ply and two-ply ones.

“And then, there is the quality issue. Is the government implying that the public should use subquality face masks?” he said.

For wholesale purchase, Nanta Linggi said the three-ply face masks will be reduced from 95 sen per unit to 65 sen per unit.

The wholesale price for one-ply face masks with ear loop will be capped at five sen, two-ply face masks with ear loop at 16 sen and N95 face masks at RM5.

The new maximum retail price for the one-ply type is seven sen, two-ply is 20 sen and N95 is RM6.

Meanwhile, Shine Pharmacy MD Charles Liew said ever since the pandemic hit, it is best to let the natural course of economic principles operate in full.

This includes the principle of supply and demand, hence, setting a ceiling price goes against that principle as the ecosystem is manipulated.

“The one major issue with this announcement is that the good quality three-ply surgical masks, which are very expensive to source, will suffer.

“Not stipulating the types of these masks basically paints all masks to be the same,” he told The Malaysian Reserve.

Economically speaking, a lot of pharmacies will find ways to survive, Liew added.

He said for example, they may opt to just sell the cheaper masks, and as there is a ceiling price, they could very safely trade within the margins and still make a few times profits because China-made masks could go as low as less than 10 sen.

“So, there will be a problem whereby pharmacies will not be able to sell the better surgical masks due to diminishing margins. At the end of the day, end users lose, as is always the case,” he added.

Liew said Shine Pharmacy in Sarawak will continue to sell all sorts of masks, from cheaper options to three-ply surgical masks and even N95 masks.