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Face masks cost up to 2.5 times more in online pharmacies

Mask prices are not regulated in Belgium, which allows free competition between sellers. Credit: Belga

The prices of face masks and disinfectant gels have become up to 2.5 times more expensive in the last three weeks, according to consumer organisation Test-Achats.

Over the course of three weeks, Test-Achats has received more than 200 reports of malpractices related to the crisis sparked by the new coronavirus (Covid-19), of which almost a quarter concerned price increases for disinfectant gels and masks.

The consumer organisation wants to introduce a maximum price, based on the principle of not abusing a shortage situation, that is widely ignored by sellers of these health products and is not even respected by all pharmacists, Test-Achats said on its website.

Over half of the reports the organisation received have to do with purchases in a pharmacist, the others concern malpractices on websites such as bol.com, Facebook and supermarkets.

The average price of FFP2 masks currently displayed in online pharmacies is €5.69/piece. “However, some consumers have told us much higher prices, up to €15 per mask,” Test-Achats said.

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“The prices of surgical masks, which generally cost between €0.10 and €0.30 per piece, have not prevented a residential care centre from receiving a bill for over €700 for 120 surgical masks from its pharmacist. A cost of no less than €6 per mask,” it added.

The consumer organisation has asked the government to introduce a maximum price on disinfectant gels and masks, and it also sent a list of pharmacists, which were reported by customers, to the Order of Pharmacists.

Mask prices are not regulated in Belgium, which allows free competition between sellers, according to Test-Achats, but taking advantage of a shortage situation remains forbidden.

The organisation has sent letters to Federal Ministers Nathalie Muylle and Philippe De Backer, as well as Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès, to ask for a maximum price on these products.

Maïthé Chini
The Brussels Times

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