Coronavirus: Price of a box of N95 masks cost more than a gram of gold in Indonesia

JAKARTA - The price of a box of masks for the first time has surpassed a gram of gold, one retailer has been quoted as saying.

The price for a box of 20 N95 3M masks at Pasar Pramuka, Jakarta's largest marketplace for the sale of pharmaceuticals and other medical-related equipment, has risen sevenfold to 1.5 million rupiah (about S$150). The price of a gram of gold in Indonesia is currently 800,000 rupiah.

The spike comes despite the fact that not a single case of the coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has been reported in the vast archipelago with a population of 260 million.

Demand has hit the roof and masks have been flying off the shelf with many pharmacies in the capital running out of stock.

The thinner three-ply surgical mask is going for as high as 275,000 rupiah for a box of 50.

The normal price for a box is about 30,000 rupiah.

The Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) has sharply criticised the government for not doing anything about the situation. The YLKI has called on the Business Competition Supervisory Commission (KPPU) to investigate the exorbitant prices.

"We are calling on the KPPU and police to take stern measures to stop any party who have acted irresponsibly," said YLKI chairman Sudaryatmo, who like most Indonesians has only a one-word name.

He said the government should move and set a price ceiling of 30 per cent above the usual price. Sanction would have to be sought for any amount above this.


Wholesalers have apparently begun to ration supplies to retailers.

The owner of Toko Aini at Pasar Pramuka told The Straits Times her supplier now  lets her pick up only between five and 10 cartons of masks, a sharp drop from the 50 she used to take previously.

"My wholesaler told me they had to meet orders from overseas, China and Japan," said Ms Aini, who declined to give her full name.

She said hand sanitisers had also seen brisk sales and a 500ml bottle now sells for 80,000 rupiah, up from 45,000 rupiah usually.

As of Monday, Indonesia's Health Ministry has put the number of coronavirus suspect cases at 62, of which 59 have tested negative. Indonesia had fewer than five cases and reported no deaths during the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003.

More than 8,000 cases of Sars were reported worldwide and nearly 800 people, including 33 in Singapore, succumbed to the disease. The new coronavirus  has infected more than 37,000 worldwide, with most cases in China, and killed over 900 people.