The Babubazar wholesale mask market bustles with sales as coronavirus cases increase in the country
The Babubazar wholesale mask market bustles with sales as coronavirus cases increase in the countrySazid Hossain

Wholesaler Sadul Marin buys masks from Babubazar in Dhaka and supplies these to shops in Narayanganj. On Wednesday too he went to Babubazar and within an hour bought 5,000 masks for TK 10,100.

At around 3:00pm, after buying the masks, Sadul Matin told Prothom Alo that he had bought 10,000 masks for Tk 11,000 just two weeks ago. Prices have almost doubled. He said over the past two weeks the price of masks has been increasing every day.

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There is a wholesale mask market under the second Buriganga bridge in Babubazar. Most of the masks supplied to Dhaka and other districts of the country, come from Babubazar. The increased prices in the wholesale market have pushed prices up in the retail stores too. Salesperson of Janata Pharmacy at Dhaka's Khilgaon intersection, Md Masud, said on Wednesday packets of 50 masks were sold for Tk 150 from the store. It was Tk 20 cheaper just a week ago.

Businessmen said that this is a second wave in the sales and the demand for masks. Over the last few months the demand for masks had slumped and so had prices. But the market has picked up again with the resurgence of coronavirus transmission and deaths. The government too has taken up a drive to ensure people wear masks.

At the cabinet meeting on 16 November, directives were issued for mobile courts to ensure people follow the rules of hygiene, including wearing masks. The drive is being carried out in the capital city and other districts of the country.

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On Wednesday, the drive was carried out in 17 areas of the city and 111 persons were fined Tk 18,000 in total for not wearing masks. Masks were also handed out free of cost to some people.

Speaking to Prothom Alo during the drive, Dhaka administration's executive magistrate Amena Marjan said that they were focusing on raising awareness and motivating people to wear masks more than imposing fines so that people wore masks on their own accord.

The traders said three types of cloth masks were being made - non-woven fabric masks, woven fabric masks and knit fabric masks. There are at least 10 types of masks of varying prices and quality being sold at Babubazar. Two types of these masks are being imported and the rest are locally made. The masks available there are non-woven surgical masks, meltblown fabric masks, KN-95 masks, N-95 masks, N-95 3M masks, Ninja masks, woven fabric masks, knit fabric masks, PP woven fabric masks and sweater fabric masks.

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The branded clothing stores in the country also sell masks. In the capital city's Dhanmondi outlet of fashion brand Yellow, there is a corner selling protective wear, including various surgical and fabric masks.

The common surgical masks at the Babubazar wholesale market sell for Tk 1. 10 to Tk 3 per piece. The same masks each sell for Tk 5 to Tk 7 at Dhaka's retail stores. Costlier masks are being sold at model pharmacies and brand stores.

At the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, large volumes of masks were imported. Imports have lessened as local companies now manufacture masks
Zahidul Alam, owner of mask importing company Service and Corporation,
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The prices and quality of masks vary. Non-woven material masks can sell for Tk 2.80 to Tk 3 per piece, Ninja masks for Tk 13 to Tk 14, woven masks for Tk 9 to Tk 10, knit fabric masks for Tk 8 to Tk 9, and locally made KN-95 masks for Tk 15 to Tk 20. Imported N-95 masks sell for Tk 300 to Tk 350 each and N-95 3M masks for Tk 280 to Tk 350 each.

Masks are sold on the footpaths of Dhaka city for Tk 10 to Tk 20. In the upmarket shopping centres, the prices of masks vary from Tk 70 to Tk 500. KN-95 masks and N-95 masks through which micro-particles cannot penetrate can cost from Tk 500 to Tk 800 each.

Where the masks are made

Not many companies made surgical masks in the country before the coronavirus outbreak. Get Well Limited, an affiliate of RFL Group, was one of the few companies that made surgical masks. They began manufacturing surgical masks in the country from 2015.

RFL director Kamruzzaman Kamal, speaking to Prothom Alo, said before the outbreak of coronavirus, Get Well would manufacture 15,000 masks per day. Now it produces 250,000 a day. Production has gone up with the increase in demand.

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The manufacturers said the non-woven material for surgical masks was mostly imported from China. Small factories too are now producing these masks in bulk. The garment manufacturers supplying to the local market too have begun making masks. Traders said that most of the mask factories are in Dhaka's Keraniganj, Kamrangirchar, Siddiqbazar of Gulistan, Narayanganj, Tongi and Gazipur.

Owner of the factory Chattogram Textiles in Narayanganj, Mohammad Manzurul Alam, told Prothom Alo, the demand for masks increased two weeks ago. He would sell a box of 50 masks for Tk 60 before. That now sells for Tk 120.

Imports

According to the Chattogram Customs House, there is a steady fall in the import of masks and other protective items. Between 1 to 24 November, masks and other such items worth Tk 43.50 million (Tk 4 crore 35 lakh) were imported. In October that had been Tk 86.60 million (Tk 8 crore 66 lakh). In September, imports of such items had been around Tk 110 million (Tk 11 crore).

Owner of Chattogram's mask importing company Service and Corporation, Zahidul Alam, told Prothom Alo, at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak, large volumes of masks were imported. Imports have lessened as local companies now manufacture masks.

The government should take strong initiative to provide masks to the poorer people. After all, the poorer people are struggling economically at present and it is not possible for them to buy masks. If they are provided masks free of cost, more people will wear masks.
Golam Rahman, president, Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB),

Exports

With the outbreak of the pandemic, a huge global market opened up for personal protective equipment (PPE) gowns and masks. Only a couple of companies received favourable response to supply PPE gowns, but the export of masks has increased considerably. According to BGMEA, the apex body garment manufacturers and exporters, masks worth USD 26.90 million (Tk 229 crore) were exported from March to July this year. In the corresponding period last year, masks worth USD 2.7 million (Tk 23 crore) in total were exported.

BGMEA director Mohammad Nasir told Prothom Alo, "We failed to capture the PPE and mask export market as we had hoped. Before the entrepreneurs in this country could prepare, the purchase orders went to competitor countries like China, Vietnam and Sri Lanka."

Quality question

Traders said that low quality and fake masks were being sold in the country. Zakir Hossain, a pharmacy owner in Babubazar's Mitford area, said there would be guidelines regarding the manufacture and sale of masks.

A government official, Shahadat Hossain, last week bought KN-95 masks for Tk 35 each. The straps of the mask tore after the first time we wore it. He said, at the beginning of the pandemic, he had bought a KN-95 masks and it had lasted for long. But the ones he bought recently online were fake.

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There is not compulsory criteria in the country regarding the manufacture and sales of masks. Masks are not on the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) list of 181 items requiring certification.

President of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB), Golam Rahman, told Prothom Alo, BSTI could have criteria for the standard of masks. He said that the government should take strong initiative to provide masks to the poorer people. After all, the poorer people are struggling economically at present and it is not possible for them to buy masks. If they are provided masks free of cost, more people will wear masks.

(Staff correspondent of Chattogram and correspondent of Narayanganj helped in the compilation of this report.)