The coronavirus pandemic has prompted a frenzied buying of masks and hand sanitizers. The shortage due to the abundance of demand has prompted a growing black market in their sale—one that may not adhere to the usual standards of hygiene and safety.
On Monday, after videos circulated on social media showing masks being cleaned and left to dry in a godown in Mumbai, the police booked a 22-year-old man after he was caught dumping a large contingent of possibly-used masks out in the open.
The World Health Organisation strongly urges against re-using single-use masks—and that is in the context of re-using your own mask. Using another person’s mask is a severe risk and an obvious no-no.
The police booked the man, Imran Sheikh, under IPC section 269 (whoever unlawfully or negligently does any act which is likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life), according to Narpoli police station senior inspector Maloji Shinde, who added that the accused had not yet been arrested.
The police say they took action after TV channels showed footage of masks being stored at a godown in Bhiwandi township. District Health Officer Manish Renge, who was one of the nodal officers appointed to implement the Disaster Management Act on Wednesday, took suo moto cognisance of the reports and directed the Food and Drug Administration, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board and the police to inspect the godown.
Police say that before they could do so, the suspect allegedly removed all the masks and attempted to dump them at an open space at Purna village on Retibunder road in Bhiwandi, PTI reported. Some reports claimed that over one lakh masks had been found dumped.
According to news reports, the police are to interrogate the man to find out who he bought the masks from and whether they came from China. MPCB officials have sent the masks to a lab to check if they had been contaminated by COVID-19 or any other virus. Thereafter, they will be safely destroyed; Renge told PTI that the MPCB has been directed to destroy about 25,000 masks following the standard operating procedure, as they could have been used in hospitals or industries and that they were for one-time use only.
In addition, revenue officials asked residents to avoid the area until lab test results come in.
On Wednesday, former Maharashtra chief minister and current leader of the opposition Devendra Fadnavis raised the issue in the assembly, asking the speaker to investigate complaints that face masks were being imported, washed and then sold in Bhiwandi. “Once there were complaints, these were discarded, but the government needs to take strict action,” Fadnavis said to the assembly, adding that blackmarketeers had been trying to exploit the public.
On March 6, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan warned against those who were charging inflated prices for masks. The Delhi police have already initiated a crackdown against medicine shops that were hoarding masks and hand sanitisers and selling them at 8-10 times the original rate. 3.5 lakh masks and 2,500 bottles of hand sanitizer were seized from 70 shops in Gurugram according to reports, which these items to be sold later at a discount to address at a shortage.
20 people admitted to the Kasturba Hospital in Mumbai tested negative for COVID-19 on Thursday, the BMC health department said. Of the 190 who were quarantined since January 18, 168 have already tested negative, says Daksha Shah, deputy director, BMC health department.
12 people have tested positive across Maharashtra so far.
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