Companies selling personal hygiene products such as protective masks may face fines of up to 1 million euros if found to be profiteering, the General Secretariat for Commerce and Consumer Protection announced on Monday. This follows a series of sudden price hikes for FFP2 face masks between December 24 and 27, just after the government measure forcing supermarket consumers and public transport users to wear such masks or a double mask as of last Friday.
The secretariat has identified 16 physical and online stores that raised their prices disproportionately in that period, and the Market Monitoring unit has started probing whether those enterprises have employed profiteering practices in items protected by the law pertaining to the pandemic. The Development Ministry intends to impose very heavy fines, “to a level you have never seen before,” according to Minister Adonis Georgiadis.
A quick search through online marketplaces reveals major hikes, from 40% to 60%, as in the case of a 10 pack of FFP2 masks that climbed from €2.11 to €3.20. Mask packs of the same category for children have also risen from €2.40 on December 23 to almost €3 on Monday, a rise of 24.5%.
Market representatives and pharmacists argue that the price of a single FFP2 (KN95) mask normally ranges between €0.95 and €1, while noting that their mask suppliers have not yet introduced any hikes. “We have an availability issue, as demand for FFP2 masks soared over the festive season, when we normally do inventory work and transport companies are busy,” says a market representative, who has a medical equipment enterprise.
“On a single day we may have customers buying three packs of 10 such masks each,” she says, adding that demand for such products is reminiscent of the period during the first lockdown, in March 2020. She anticipates a further increase in demand now that food service staff will also have to wear such masks at work or use double masks, but believes that demand is going to ebb soon.