KOCHI: With Ernakulam waking up to the news of the district’s first COVID -19 case, the city plunged into panic mode. Kochiites were seen donning masks in public transportation such as buses and the metro, while sanitisers and masks have gone out of stock in pharmacies and shops.“Until yesterday, we assumed that children would be relatively safe from the virus. However, with the most recent case, we’re leaving no stone unturned and have bought masks for our children,” Thomson Mathew told Express, as he alighted from the Kochi Metro.
Another commuter in her sixties said masks are essential due to the pace of the infection being spread. Since the past few days, Metro employees have begun to wear masks, considering the influx of various passengers via the ‘Pavan Doot’ bus service from Aluva station to the airport. A sanitation drive was undertaken on Friday keeping the same in mind. KMRL has also done its part by displaying preventive measures at stations to create awareness. With health experts reiterating that washing hands and the use of sanitisers are crucial in the wake of the outbreak, the latter has become scarce in shops. “The demand for sanitissers was unforeseen. Currently, we have a handful left but we have completely run out of masks. The orders for new stock have been placed but with the current situation, we’re uncertain about its arrival,” said Sabikh Muhammed, of Life Care Medicals, Kochi.
The clamour has also resulted in masks and sanitisers being sold double their prices. Surgical masks, which earlier cost `2, are now sold at `20. “People have been enquiring about masks since yesterday. We have completely run out of sanitisers and I’m positive about the same regarding masks. The N95 masks are currently available for `190. Though the latter isn’t essential, people have begun to buy and hoard thems,” said Shamsudeen K, owner of Fathima Medicals, Kochi.
Despite the situation, action can’t be taken, said Ravi S Menon, state drugs controller. “Products like masks are not under price control. Earlier, a surgical mask costing Rs 10 was sold for `2 due to low demand. Now, the requirement has increased and they’re being sold for a higher price,” he said. As for the depleting products in pharmacies and shops, he said: “Currently we have two manufacturers for hand sanitisers in the state. We’ve asked them to produce maximum quantities possible. Hand sanitisers were never common in Kerala; a few months ago shops managed to sell two to three pieces, today up to 40 are bought in bulk. Nevertheless, export has been halted for a while and manufacturers have been asked to focus on supplying to the state. As for masks, only those with exposure to public places or health workers require the N95 mask. Panic has led to several hoarding the same. Several fail to realise that these have to be changed every two hours,” he said.
Price of chicken, egg falls
Along with five cases of the coronavirus reported in Pathanamthitta and one in Kochi, the state has more to grapple with. While poultry demand and prices fall during summer, bird flu, along with the lent season, has led to an all-time decrease in sales of chicken and egg. Sources say the poultry sector in Kerala is going through a massive crisis. “The farm gate realisation price of a hen has plunged to `35 and is being sold to customers for Rs 65 per kg.
While the situation is comparatively better in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam, chicken is sold in northern parts of the state and Ernakulam at Rs 55 per kg. There is an influx of chickens in Ernakulam as it receives hens from Perumbavoor, Kollam, Malappuram and Tamil Nadu. Chickens can’t be stocked for a long period and retailers are under pressure to sell them, despite the decrease in demand. Small farmers are affected the most; they’re forced to sell these for lower prices, resulting in a marginally low profit,” said Siyad Meerasahib Rawther, joint secretary, Poultry farmers and Traders Association.