Here in Ireland and globally, each day brings news of the rising number of confirmed cases and tragic fatalities arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Understandably this has brought about a huge sense of distress, worry and uncertainty amongst workers and young people who are not only living in the fear of a substantial threat to their health and those of their families and friends, but who are also anxious of what economic effects this pandemic will have on their livelihoods.
Since the outbreak of this crisis, reports have emerged of obscene price rises in essential medicines, masks and hand-sanitiser. In Britain, the cost of basic over-the-counter medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen and paracetamol has risen by up to 30%. This week, Aspar Pharmaceuticals, a major supplier of pain-relief medicines to chemists and supermarkets, including the major retailer Tesco, demanded a 20% price increase on its aspirin and paracetamol.
Major online companies, most notably Amazon, are facilitating the speculation and profiteering that has arisen from COVID-19. The Financial Times (3 March) pointed out how:
“a pack of 20 masks made by manufacturer 3M, but sold by an unauthorised reseller, was on sale at $387, compared to a normal retail price of around $14.99. A pack of 24 2oz bottles of Purell hand sanitiser, typically sold for less than $10 a box, was listed at $400.”
Such profiteering and speculation has been evident here in Ireland. Shops and pharmacies have been selling small bottles of hand sanitisers of 50 mls for €10 and packets of 50 face masks for €150. These examples prove that “the hidden hand of the market”, that capitalism is supposedly founded on – where human wants and needs are matched – is an absurd joke.
Immediate price caps should be introduced on all essential medicines, facemasks, hand sanitisers and foodstuffs to cut across any profiteering from COVID-19. Democratically elected committees of workers in the retail sector, trade union representatives and consumers should be brought into being to ensure that these price controls are rigidly enforced.