From pharmacists at high-end medicine shops to unlicensed medicine sellers at rundown neighbourhoods in the capital all looked annoyed on Sunday when asked if they had any hand sanitisers or hand rubs or surgical gloves.
Almost every minute there was a healthy looking individual asking for the items usually used during surgery by physicians and by post-operative patients.
As the novel coronavirus causing the disease called COVID-19 is spreading amid continued panic buying of essentials, disinfectants and cleanliness products disappeared fast from market shelves.
‘I have no disinfectants or cleanliness items and don’t know when the next supply will come,’ said Habibullah, a pharmacist at a medicine shop on Pragati Sarani.
He ran out of supplies of hand sanitisers, hand rubs and surgical gloves five days ago and has repeatedly been asking dealers for fresh supplies.
New Age visited a dozen medicine, grocery and super shops only two of which had limited supplies of surgical gloves and a few small bottles of liquid disinfectant savlon.
Nisha Pharma, a medicine shop at a Badda neighbourhood, said that he had received 200 bottles of disinfectant hand rub hexisol in mid March that were sold in just two days.
‘Usually a dozen hexisol took a month to sell,’ he said.
Ashik, a grocer at Eskaton, had sold three dozen bottles of liquid savlon disinfectant in just two days in early March.
‘The supply would have lasted for six months in normal times,’ said Ashik.
On Saturday Ziska Pharmaceuticals supplied 7,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to 20 shops in Hatirpool which ran out of the item by Sunday afternoon, said Faisal Ahmed, medial promotion officer, Ziska Pharmaceuticals.
Bangladesh has seen a sudden surge in the demand for rice, essential commodities and disinfectants and cleanliness products immediately after the country announced its first coronavirus case on March 8.
The demand jumped after two people died of the viral infection.
WHO and other experts advised keeping hands clean to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Although they said that washing hands with soap and water for 20 seconds is the best way to kill the virus still people have stocked up on disinfectants and other cleanliness products.
Drug Administration directorate general Mahbubur Rahman hoped that the crisis would be over soon for 14 new companies were approved to produce hand rub and sanitiser and eight of them have already rolled into production.
The new companies approved for producing the disinfectants include the state-owned distillery Carew and Co and Jamuna Group, said Mahbub.
The sudden rise in the demand for the products usually considered slow items has put the producers under huge pressure.
ACI Limited, which shares roughly a fourth of the disinfectant and cleanliness products in the market, has added two shifts to its regular production and was in production round the clock, said Syed Alamgir, managing director of the company.
‘Some people are buying a cartoon when they need just one bottle,’ said Alamgir.
Researchers say that people resort to panic buying when they lose their sense of control over their surroundings and try to cope with it by stockpiling products that they think is necessary to get back in control.
Unclean hands are said to have been the most potential medium for the virus to spread.
On Sunday, an inspection team of the Directorate of National Consumer Rights Protection fined a trader Tk 1.5 lakh in Uttara for artificially increasing hand sanitiser and mask prices.
Besides disinfectants and cleanliness products, staple rice and other essentials have also seen an overnight rise in their prices in apprehension of an imminent countrywide lockdown.
Five DNCRP teams fined traders in the capital for increasing prices of rice and other essentials on Sunday.
On Saturday a DNCRP team found that the prices of isopropyl alcohol, a hand sanitiser ingredient, tripled in the wholesale market in 24 hours.
New Age on Saturday at about 10:00pm found the Lazz Pharma branch on Pragati Sarani selling hand sanitizer produced by one Sheba Chemical and Food Industries Limited.
A 100 ml bottle of the product was sold for Tk 180 when a 250 ml bottle of it should cost maximum Tk 140.
DGDA DG Mahbub said that no company by the name of Sheba was permitted to market hand sanitisers.
‘Some dishonest people are in for making money and we will look into the matter,’ he said.