EghtesadOnline: Despite reassurances by the Ministry of Industries, Mining and Trade that Iranian ports have ample stocks of food and essential goods, people are racing to buy in large quantities supplies from sanitizers to meat and ginger, amid growing coronavirus fears.
“The national stockpile of sanitizers and essential goods is sufficient; people need not raid supermarkets," Hossein Modarres Khiyabani, deputy industries minister, was quoted as saying by IRNA.
“Our strategic reserves of essential goods are twice the country’s need. People should not lock up their liquidity and stock up in excess of needs.”
According to Financial Tribune, the ministry has called on chain stores and municipalities’ grocery distribution centers and guilds to supply products without interruption.
“All products that were meant to be sold at spring fairs at affordable prices are now being supplied by chain stores and municipalities’ grocery distribution centers,” he added.
Spring fairs planned across the country have been cancelled due to the extraordinary situation created by the spread of the new coronavirus, according to the head of Iran Guilds Chamber.
These events are organized in the runup to Norouz (the Iranian New Yar) holidays (March 20-April 1) with the aim of directly supplying locally produced goods at cheap prices.
The virus outbreak has driven people to panic-buying, says Mansour Aaliput, the deputy head of chain stores’ union, adding that their purchases are not reasonable and proportionate with their needs.
“The reason behind the empty shelves in some supermarkets is that replenishment takes some time and you can’t increase your delivery services or employ new staff for a short period of time,” he added.
On Tuesday, Industries Minister Reza Rahmani was asked about the shortage of sanitizers and disinfectants.
He said, “Their production operations are continuing three shifts per day. There are over 70 factories with a capacity of about 250,000 tons of liquid soap.”
According to Bakhtiar Alambeigi, the head of Iran Association of Producers of Cleaning, Cosmetic and Hygienic Products' board of directors, there will not be any price rise until the end of the next Iranian year’s first month (March 21-April 20).
“Fifty patrols have been tasked with supervising the guild units in order to prevent any violations such as hoarding of sanitizers in the runup to New Year holidays and the holy month of Ramadan,” Abbas Tabesh, the head of the Consumer and Producer Protection Organization, said.
“People can also call the price gouging hotline  to report those who are trying to take advantage of the situation for their personal gain. There’s absolutely no need of panic buying.”
Action Against Hoarding
A stock of 3 million hoarded masks was confiscated in Tehran on Tuesday, said Director General of Tehran’s ‘Tazirat’ Organization (a judiciary-affiliated oversight entity dealing with trading offenses), Mohammad Ali Esfanani.
“Another hoarded stock containing 500,000 masks was seized on Monday; these masks have been delivered to medical universities to be distributed in state-owned hospitals,” IRIB News quoted the official as saying.
The Consumer and Producer Protection Organization says it will take legal action against hoarders and those who sell masks at inflated prices.
People have also been called to contact the hotline 135 if they see any hoarded goods or instances of profiteering.
The head of Food and Drug Administration of Iran has spoken of a plan to distribute face masks free of charge and subsequently ban sales in pharmacies.
Mohammad Reza Shanesaz had earlier said that pharmacies would be barred from ordering new batches of masks and that they will only be allowed to sell what they already have in stock.
“The price set for three-layer mask is 4,100 rials [about 2 cents] and all pharmacies and distribution centers are required to sell their products at the set price,” Esmaeil Mehdipour, an official with the Consumer and Producer Protection Organization, was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.
The industries minister has ordered all producers of filtered masks and different types of disinfectants and cleansing products to work round the clock to meet the increasing domestic demand in the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak.
“Raw materials these production units need have been provided and there is no shortage at present,” Fars News Agency quoted Rahmani as saying.
According to the minister, the country has the capacity to produce 2 million masks per day and the annual capacity for liquid and bar soaps stands at 250,000 tons and 55,000 tons respectively.
According to Seyyed Hossein Safavi, director of Health Ministry’s Medical Equipment and Supplies Department, there are 15 mask production companies in Iran.
Cut in Mask Import Tariff, Ban on Exports
As per the latest decision by the Market Regulation Headquarters of Industries Ministry, the import tariff set for mask has decreased from 55% to 5% to meet growing demand fueled by the coronavirus outbreak, IRNA reported.
The headquarters upheld the ban on exports of raw materials needed to produce masks which is in force sincepast two months and tasked all factories making sanitizers, disinfectants and cellulose products (such as tissue paper) to operate three shifts per day.
The Ministry of Health and Medical Education’s request to ban the exports of cotton face masks was agreed to by the Market Regulation Headquarters on Feb. 3.
“The committee responsible for levying export tariffs, affiliated with the Trade Promotion Organization of Iran, will soon take necessary measures in this respect,” Mohammad Reza Kalami, the spokesman of the headquarters, was quoted as saying by IRNA.
Advisor to the Iranian Association for Hygienic Cellulose Industry Feysal Mardasi said back then that due to the outbreak of coronavirus in China, Chinese traders were buying facemasks from Iran by pre-purchasing almost all of what was produced in the country.
“Under the current circumstances and the increase in domestic demand for face masks, exports of the product have to be banned so the local market stays balanced,” the official was quoted as saying by ILNA.
“Raw materials to make mask are all produced domestically in Iran,” says Kayvan Gardan, an official with the Ministry of Industries, Mining and Trade.
“Producers operating at 20-30% of their capacity have now boosted their output. Health and industries ministries are doing their utmost to resolve problems associated with mask production. Since 10 years ago, the country has become self-sufficient in producing face masks.”