Is it too soon to allow people to resell hot public health commodities?

As you may well remember, when coronavirus started to become a worldwide issue back in March, people started to go a little crazy. A sudden skyrocket in demand for paper products, cleaning items, and non-perishable foods caused people to clear out store shelves in a matter of days. Even in Japan, the high demand for some products led to fights breaking out in the streets and multiple thefts.

In the middle of the panic, some people went so far as to buy up desirable items and reselling them at a premium. Even flour products were listed on yard-sale apps for two or three times the price. It became such a big problem for masks, an important public safety commodity, that the government had to step in and enact a ban on the resale of masks at marked up prices in March, with a steep penalties for violators. In June, they added hand sanitizer to the rule, too, as the need to keep hands clean as the country reopened spurred demand.

But now that the initial panic is over, and we have become accustomed to the “new normal” brought about by the coronavirus, the government feels it may be safe to release those bans. According to the Japanese Diet’s Consumer Committee, which met on August 20, the production and importation of masks and hand sanitizer has sufficiently recovered enough to keep up with the demand, and so the committee plans to lift the ban on August 29

Before the start of the pandemic, only 440 million masks were produced each month, but by June that amount had almost doubled to 800 million, and in August is projected to be nearer to 10 million. Hand sanitizer production, too, has increased over the summer to 6 million liters (1.6 million gallons), about six times as much as before.

“We believe it will be more than enough to handle the demand,” said the Consumer Committee.

Japanese citizens, however, are still worried. In Twitter reactions to a Yahoo! News! Japan article on lifting the bans, many netizens expressed concerns about the decision:

“Why are they lifting the ban? They should be adding more things to the list instead.”
“We finally just got to the point where shelves are getting restocked and we can buy them as normal again. Lifting the ban doesn’t make sense. We’re still limited on how many we can buy, and there are no Japanese makers on the shelves at all.”
“I cannot agree with this. Why ruin a system that is working? If you lift the ban, it will just result in a spiral of people buying up all the goods -> a shortage -> reselling -> price gouging again.”
“I don’t understand why they’re lifting the ban now. It’s going to be fall soon, and then winter, and we’ll need more and more masks and hand sanitizer.”
“It’s a stupid idea. The people who need them most won’t be able to get them anymore.”
“Have they even been to a drug store lately? The shelves where they keep the masks and hand sanitizers are still completely empty.”

Responses to the news were overwhelmingly negative, with many people believing that it would just initiate another shortage. Masks and sanitizer still aren’t always in stock in all Japanese stores, and with colder weather, and flu season, on the way, the demand for both products may rise even higher. The news itself might even spark panic buying, as people rush to buy products they’ll think they need before the resale ban is lifted and scalpers pick up everything to resell at a premium.

Or perhaps everything will be fine, as the government thinks. The government should know what they’re doing, right? The Committee currently plans to lift the ban on August 29, so I suppose we’ll have to wait and see how things go after that.

Source: Asahi News via Yahoo! Japan News, Twitter/@YahooNewsTopics
Top image: Pakutaso

Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2)
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