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Singapore retailers, e-commerce platforms asked to cooperate in stopping mask profiteering

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To prevent profiteering from surgical mask sales in the midst of Wuhan coronavirus worries, retailers and e-commerce platforms will be asked to cooperate with the authorities in tackling errant retailers, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing told media on Thursday.

TO prevent profiteering from surgical mask sales in the midst of Wuhan coronavirus worries, retailers and e-commerce platforms will be asked to cooperate with the authorities in tackling errant retailers, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing told media on Thursday. He applauded platforms such as Carousell and Qoo10 for threatening to suspend profiteering sellers.

Warning letters will also be sent to retailers which are suspected of profiteering, he added: “They will give us an answer to what they are doing and why they are doing what they are doing.”

The government is also changing its method of mask distribution. While the national stockpile will be prioritised for healthcare workers, there will be a one-off distribution of masks to households.

NTUC FairPrice said on Thursday that with this government distribution, retailers will no longer be able to draw from the stockpile – which had been one of FairPrice’s sources – but added that it will continue to secure new supplies.

In a media release on Thursday evening, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said the government's Price Controller has issued a letter of demand to retailer Deen Express, in response to public complaints of sellers selling surgical masks at "grossly inflated prices".

"Deen Express is to explain to the Price Controller the basis of their selling prices for the sale of masks, including their cost price and profit margins. MTI will use such information to assess the need for further action under the Price Control Act," said MTI.

The Price Controller also issued letters to e-commerce platforms Lazada, Carousell and Qoo10 to request for information on anypotential profiteers on their platforms.

The companies must respond to the Price Controller’s queries by Monday, Feb 3. Failure to comply with the request for information may lead to a fine of up to S$10,000 for the first offence, and up to S$20,000 for the second and subsequent offences.

MTI said it will work closely with the Consumers Association of Singapore and the Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore to monitor the situation and investigate any unfair and anti-competitive practices. Consumers can report errant sellers to CASE at 6100 0315.

The current rate of mask consumption in Singapore is not sustainable, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on Wuhan Coronavirus. Over the last nine days, the government has released over five million masks to retailers from the national stockpile.

He stressed that masks should be worn only if one is sick and heading to see a doctor. People who are well do not need to wear masks.

To assure Singaporeans that they will have access to masks if required for seeing a doctor, there will be a one-off distribution of masks to all 1.3 million resident households, with four surgical masks per household. Community centres and residents' committee centres will distribute these 5.2 million masks progressively from Feb 1.

These masks should not be used immediately, and should instead be saved for a situation where a household member is ill and needs to see a doctor, stressed Mr Wong.

When medical assistance is sought, the need for more masks will be assessed, said Mr Chan. He urged Singaporeans not to engage in panic buying and hoarding. The government is working to keep supply lines robust and is exploring new suppliers.

Asked if Singapore would consider banning all flights from China, Mr Wong said the situation is evolving and the government takes an evidence-based approach. This was why restrictions were put in place for higher-risk travellers from Hubei, the province where Wuhan is located.

If and when there is a need, with community spread in other Chinese cities or provinces outside Hubei, the government will update measures accordingly and will not rule out tighter travel restrictions, he said.

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