Face mask shortage spreads to Korea, too

Lee Han-soo  Published 2020.01.31  18:40  Updated 2020.01.31 18:40


- Mask distributors under fire for overcharging

As Chinese people are bent on getting face masks to avoid the new coronavirus, the buy-mask fervor has also resulted in the shortage of masks in Korea.

An online search of face masks shows that a variety of products are out of stock. The country is facing a face mask shortage as the new coronavirus is continuing to spread. Korea has confirmed 11 patients as of 4 p.m. Friday.

The shortage of masks is most visible in the country’s online shopping malls, such as Coupang, Gmarket and Interpark, as customers run into out-of-stock signs when they look for the most popular N94 of N95 face masks.

The two types of face masks have gained popularity in protecting the wearer compared to regular masks, as they create a better seal and are reportedly designed to catch 94 or 95 percent of small particles before they reach the nose and mouth, market watchers said.

The mask shortage has reached a new level as citizens expressed their outrage against some of the distributors for trying to take advantage of the situation by raising the price to unreasonably high levels.

A screen capture of an online shows a shopping mall selling 50 KF94 face mask for 711,200 won ($603) on Friday. According to an online user, the item was sold at 54,500 won on Monday.

An internet user said that face mask vendors increased the tag of their product by up to 15 times of normal prices. “I was fortunate enough to buy 50 KF94 masks for 1,090 won ($0.92) before the shortage started,” the netizen wrote. “However, when I went back online to share the information with my friends, the company had increased the price by 13 times to 14,200 won. This is outrageous and makes me wonder if the company has a conscience at all.”

Other customers who were looking to buy the face mask also criticized the company for being unethical.

“Hope you are happy profiteering by sacrificing people’s health,” another customer wrote.

In response to the severe backlash, the company apologized that it is in the process of adjusting its prices. According to the comment board, however, the company is still maintaining its high cost.

Due to the unethical practice from distributors, face mask manufacturers are suffering unfairly.

After receiving severe criticism from the public, a CEO of a local face mask manufacturer said that his company had not raised its supply price since the new coronavirus outbreak.

“We have been receiving complaints from customers about raising the price of our masks,” Welkeeps CEO Park Jong-han wrote on his company’s website. “However, we have not changed the price of our face masks since the new coronavirus outbreak.”

Park added that some unethical individuals and distributors are using the situation to profit from reselling his company’s products, stressing that the company does not intend to change the price, no matter how the new coronavirus situation pans out.

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