HARARE, March 24 (Xinhua) -- With demand far outstripping supply, prices for essential products needed to contain the spread of COVID-19 are on the rise on Tuesday as the virus takes its first life in Zimbabwe.
In most supermarkets at the capital Harare, face masks and sanitizers were in acute short supply, and in all the pharmacies they were available they were being offered at exorbitant prices.
One store advertised a 250 ml hand sanitizer at 20 U.S. dollars a bottle. Face masks were being charged from 2.50 U.S. dollars to as much as 5 U.S. dollars each.
In a special address to the media in Harare on Monday, Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa said businesses must not increase prices of materials essential in fighting the pandemic.
"I appeal to those involved in the manufacturing and trading of materials essential in the fight against coronavirus to resist the temptation of callously feeding fat on the current situation through extortionate pricing," he said.
"Any evidence of irresponsible corporate misbehavior will leave government with no option but to come down heavily on offenders," said Mnangagwa.
The Shipping and Freight Forwarders Agents of Zimbabwe (SFFAZ) on Monday urged government to temporarily suspend customs duty on all imports of sanitizers, face masks and synthetic gloves which are critical tools to manage and contain the spread of COVID-19.
The organization said the suspension of duty on these essential items will help boost local stocks through import from various countries.
Zimbabwe, whose healthcare system has been eroded by two decades of economic decline, has so far recorded two cases of COVID-19.
On Monday, the southern African country recorded its first novel coronavirus related death after a prominent media personality succumbed to the disease at Wilkins Hospital in Harare.