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Exports of surgical face masks now banned

Exceptions can only be made if governments of neighbouring countries apply for supply

The Central Committee on the Price of Goods and Services has resolved to ban the export of single-use surgical face masks in a bid to ensure adequate supplies for distribution to at-risk persons in the country, Department of Internal Trade director-general Wichai Phochanakit revealed on Friday (February 21).

Wichai, who also serves as the committee’s secretary, said the Thai authorities have been strict in controlling pricing and stocks of surgical face masks and this has led to some individuals trying to use a loophole by exporting fewer than 500 pieces in any one shipment to avoid having to ask for DIT permission.

The committee’s meeting on Thursday therefore resolved to ban the export of face masks without prior permission from the committee’s secretary, he said. The ban took effect from today.

The only exception is the taking of face masks outside the country for personal use, he said noting that the authority allowed no more than 30 pieces per head per time for personal use while a patient with a medical certificate could take out up to 50 pieces.

Neighbouring countries in need of a large number of face masks should contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ministry directly and submit a request in the name of the government with the amount required, Thai officials would then propose the export request for approval accordingly, he said.

In order to ensure distribution of face masks countrywide, the DIT had notified those in possession of large quantity of surgical face masks to give at least 50 per cent of the amount in their possession to the DIT centre for face mask management by today (February 21). Anyone found “stockpiling” surgical face masks after this date would be considered as being in violation of the law and face a maximum five-year jail term and/or a maximum Bt100,000 fine, Wichai said.

Following the Cabinet’s approval early February for price controls of surgical face masks, export of more than 500 pieces required  DIT approval while manufacturers, importers and distributors were told to notify the authority about the amount in stock, the prices and production cost. They were also told to sell millions of face masks to the newly established DIT centre to allow for proper management and distribution.

As of February 20, 74 suppliers had reported stocks of 28 million pieces, he said.

About 100 merchants had requested permission to export a combined 32.68 million face masks. The committee’s sub-panel for face mask export was only allowing certain models not used in Thailand or trademarked masks produced in Thailand for overseas companies, Wichai said. So far only one applicant had been granted permission to export 2.1 million pieces on condition of producing at least 7.2 million pieces for domestic uses, he added.

The centre, which was aiming to distribute 12 million face masks in February, had so far given 3.5 million masks to the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation and hospitals, 1.8 million masks to the blue flag welfare shops, 180,000 pieces to Thai Airways and 175,000 pieces to the Pharmacy Association. The centre expected to get at least 15 million face masks for distribution in March, he added.

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