Profiting from public misery
Demand for face masks spiked in parts of Luzon about two weeks before the novel coronavirus scare hit the country. This was after Taal Volcano spewed ash and steam on Jan. 12, with the ash plume blanketing much of Batangas and Tagaytay City as well as other parts of Cavite. The ash was borne by the wind to parts of Laguna and all the way to Metro Manila.
Supplies of masks were already running low in the ash-affected areas when the nCoV scare reached the Philippines. Health officials have been reminding the public that there is no airborne transmission of the virus. The nCoV can be transmitted through infected droplets, especially when a person coughs or sneezes. Covering the nose and mouth therefore helps prevent the spread of the pathogens.
Persons who are immune-compromised, or with weakened immune systems that make them vulnerable to infections – those living with HIV or lupus, for example, or with tuberculosis or cardiac problems – may wear masks when going to public places.
But for low-risk persons with healthy immune systems, wearing masks is unnecessary under ordinary circumstances, according to health authorities. Such admonitions, however, have not stopped even healthy people from stocking up on face masks, with the N95 the preferred item.
There are persons who truly need the masks – those with symptoms, or who are immuno-compromised or vulnerable in other ways due to health conditions and advanced age, and the health workers and disaster mitigation personnel who are on the front lines of the efforts to contain the spread of the virus.
Health officials have stressed that these are the ones who suffer most when people hoard or stock up on masks and create shortages. The problem is on top of profiteers who overprice masks. Authorities have correctly started cracking down on the profiteers, even as certain groups have started giving away masks to people in vulnerable areas.
Containing this public health threat calls for the cooperation of the entire country. People must heed health advisories on the use of face masks, and give priority to those on the front lines of this battle. And people must restrain the urge to profit from public misery.