ATHENS – He didn’t keep his vow to fine at least one seller of COVID-19 masks said to be gouging on prices to take advantage of new government restrictions, but Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis said violators would start being penalized.
The New Democracy government is requiring people going into supermarkets or public transportation in Greece to wear either double masks or a single more-protective KN95 mask and that has reportedly seen businesses jumping to raise prices on them.
Companies selling personal hygiene products such as protective masks may face fines of up to 1 million euros ($1.13 million) if found to be profiteering. The General Secretariat for Commerce and Consumer Protection said that was put in place after prices had unlawfully been raised in violation of an order in 2020 limiting profit margins on the items.
The secretariat has identified 16 physical and online stores that raised their prices above the margin and the Market Monitoring unit has started probing whether there are violations of the apparent violations.
The Development Ministry intends to impose very heavy fines, “to a level you have never seen before,” said Georgiadis, although it hasn’t happened yet and with no reports whether violators would be banned from selling the goods.
The newspaper Kathimerini said that its review of online marketplaces showed price hikes up to 60 percent, three times the allowable limit, for a 10 pack of so-called FFP2 protective masks.
That brought the price from 2.11 euros ($2.38) to 3.20 euros ($3.61) and the report said there were hikes of 24.5 percent for children’s masks, from 2.40 euros ($2.71) to 3 euros ($3.38,) no punitive measures apparently taken yet.
Market representatives and pharmacists, in whose stores the KN95’s are avalable, said the price of a single mask is about 1 euro ($1.13) for them although they are sold at about 1.50 euros ($1.69) which is above the limit.
“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,” a market representative not named told the paper.
“On a single day we may have customers buying three packs of 10 such masks each,” she said, a run on the masks similar to that during a first lockdown in 2020 that saw them almost unavailable anywhere.
That’s expected to cointinue with a further demand, she said, now that food service staff will also have to wear such masks at work or instead use double masks, until the supply chain catches up eventually.