Skyrocketing Mask Prices Put Poor at Risk | Be Korea-savvy

Skyrocketing Mask Prices Put Poor at Risk

A shantytown in Yeongdeungpo District, western Seoul. (Yonhap)

A shantytown in Yeongdeungpo District, western Seoul. (Yonhap)

SEOUL, Feb. 5 (Korea Bizwire)Masks and hand sanitizers are rising as essential goods as the Wuhan coronavirus is spreading worldwide.

Experts are concerned, however, that soaring prices as well as a prolonged epidemic may hurt impoverished seniors, job seekers, and other citizens.

Consumers Korea, a local civic group, examined the average price of a single mask on five different social commerce platforms and open markets.

KF94-standard masks, for instance, currently cost 3,148 won (US$2.65) each, while KF80-standard masks cost 2,663 won per piece. The civic group said that prices have gone up by 2.7 times for KF94 and 2.4 times for KF80 since April 2018.

While still affordable, the masks may start to pose financial burden for impoverished groups who are deprived of any regular source of income.

For seniors in particular, the current situation may be devastating.

“I can’t afford a mask, I never even dreamed of buying one,” said one 67-year old homeless senior. “I’m using hand sanitizers placed at the subway station.”

For young adults with low income, having to buy masks on a regular basis is becoming a financial burden.

“Buying a mask that’s 2,500 won a piece is too much,” said a 25-year old part-timer at a local convenience store.

In response, local authorities and welfare institutions are distributing masks to those in need.

The Seoul Metropolitan Government decided on January 28 to use its 16.7 billion won (US$14 million) disaster relief fund to tackle the coronavirus. The Korean Red Cross has distributed 20,000 masks to 4,000 vulnerable households.

Concerns prevail, however, that a prolonged epidemic could pose a risk against continued supply.

“Seoul’s efforts tend to concentrate on Seoul Station and Yeongdeungpo,” said Lee Dong-hyun, an activist from Homeless Action, a local civil group.

H. M. Kang (

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