MOSCOW: Russian leader Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered the closure of pharmacies accused of hiking prices of face masks, as demand soars over fears that the deadly coronavirus could spread.
Speaking at a government meeting, Putin said profiteering from the brisk sales of masks was wrong and pharmacies that engage in price gouging should be punished.
“They should be stripped of their licences to carry out their work, that’s all,” said the 67-year-old leader, who likes to burnish his man-of-the-people image.
“They’ve decided to rake in the cash,” he added, saying officials could make an example of some pharmacies to deter the rest.
He said Russia had a wide network of pharmacies so nobody would experience drug shortages.
Russia, which shares a 4,000-kilometre (2,485-mile) border with China, has two confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Both patients are Chinese citizens and they are being treated in hospitals in Siberia.
Russia has closed the land border with China and introduced a number of other measures to halt the spread of the virus.
Some complained on social media that some pharmacies have sold out of surgical masks as many rush to stock up.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who is in charge of a task force to battle the spread of the virus, told the meeting that one pharmacy chain had hiked the prices of masks.
“Some pharmacies have increased prices to between 70 and 100 rubles (US$1.10 to US$1.60) whereas a mask would sell for 1.5 rubles before the New Year,” she said at the meeting with Putin.
The government has set up a telephone hotline for people to report price gouging, she said.
“We have got the situation under control,” she added.--AFP