The Jakarta Post
Trade Minister Agus Suparmanto has urged mask producers to halt the export of masks and cater to domestic needs first amid a spike in demand for the item in Indonesia.
The problem is, he said, that a number of producers have intentionally been holding back mask supplies and raising prices.
"We urge them to increase production and fulfil domestic needs first […] We are calling on producers to not export [masks]," he told reporters in Jakarta on Thursday.
The minister's appeal follows cases of mask manufacturers who allegedly hoard or produce low-quality, high-price masks to tap into the recent skyrocketing price of masks following fears of a global spread of the novel coronavirus.
Customers in the country have been swarming supermarkets and drugstores for masks and hand sanitizers following President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo's announcement of the country's first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Monday.
Panic buying has triggered a price surge for the item both online and offline in the last two days. A box of face masks is now selling for an average price of Rp 300,000 (US$ 21) – a whopping 1,500 percent increase from the original Rp 20,000 per box.
The National Consumer Protection Agency (BPKN) chairman Ardiansyah Parman pointed out on Monday that culprits could be imprisoned for up to five years or face a fine of Rp 50 billion (US$ 3.53 million) for withholding an important product over a period time amid scarcity, quoting the 2014 law on trade.
"Don't try to find opportunities when the public is experiencing struggles," he said in a press conference. "Empathize with them instead."
On Wednesday, State-owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir said during a state-owned pharmaceutical company PT Kimia Farma site visit in Jakarta that the firm has limited the number of masks and hand sanitizer available for purchase at its 1,300 stores nationwide.
The policy aims to ensure the products’ availability in the long run amid panic buying prompted by the COVID-19 spread in Indonesia.