Feature: Prices of face masks fall in Kenya amid rise in COVID-19 cases


By Bai LinUnreguser

NAIROBI, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- At the outbreak of COVID-19 in Kenya in March, Joyce Wanjiku, a roadside vegetable seller south of Nairobi, could hardly afford a face mask because the gadgets were extremely expensive.

A single mask was being sold at between 100 shillings (about 0.92 U.S. dollars) and 1.85 dollars as demand surged.

Wanjiku, like many other low-income earners across Kenya, was torn between buying the masks at exorbitant prices to protect themselves against the disease and using the money to buy food.

"I used to cover my nose with a piece of cloth whenever I was selling my products," she recalled.

However, Wanjiku can now afford to wear a surgical mask after prices of the gadgets in the east African nation fell to all-time low, handing a boost especially to low-income earners in the fight against the disease.

In the capital Nairobi, the masks are going for between 0.05 dollars and 0.18 dollars depending on where one buys them.

Those who buy in bulk, at least a pack of 50, are getting the best prices while those buying single masks from hawkers and shopkeepers are parting with between 0.09 dollars and 0.18 dollars.

On the other hand, recyclable face masks made by dozens of tailors in the east African nation are sold at an average of 0.64 dollars from nearly double the price.

Similarly, an N95 mask that was being sold at 9.25 dollars between March and May is currently being sold at 2.3 dollars each. On the other hand, a pack of 15 is being sold at 27 dollars, a major fall.

The drop in costs is attributed to an increased supply of the protective gear in the local market, particularly those made locally as imports also surge as countries lift restrictions.

"We source the masks from a shop in downtown Nairobi," said Moses Mutuku, a hawker who is selling the gadgets in Nairobi at 0.09 each. "Prices dropped drastically about a month ago and we are now buying a box of 50 at 3.2 dollars. If we sell at 0.09 each, we get some good profit because masks are fast-moving," he added.

As Kenya's COVID-19 cases surge, traders are expecting a boom in uptake of the protective wear as some people had stopped buying them after cases declined.

Kenya on Friday registered 631 new COVID-19 cases to push the total caseload to 47,843, according to the Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe, adding that the total fatalities had raised to 884.

On Thursday, the country recorded 1,068 COVID-19 cases, the highest ever since the disease broke out in the east African nation and started to rise again this month.

The high infection cases and fatalities have seen citizens who had dropped their guard by failing to wash their hands and wear the protective gear as cases fell scramble for face masks and sanitizers.

According to Kagwe, Kenya had initially contained the spread of COVID-19 remarkably due to a large number of citizens adhering to set protocols.

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