Chinese sellers price gouging on coronavirus supplies

Many online sellers based in China were ‘away’ or on vacation as coronavirus ravaged the country at the height of the outbreak, but they have come roaring back.

Sellers on websites like Amazon and eBay are charging outrageous prices for items that Americans desperately need to protect themselves from the deadly disease. In many cases the products advertised are not even in stock until April and won’t arrive until May or later.

There are more than 30,000 coronavirus cases across the U.S. and more than 400 people have died. America’s hospitals are running out of protective equipment such as masks, gowns, goggles, face shields, nitrile gloves and other equipment. China is back in business and ramping up factory output just in time.

Dr. Josh Lerner, who works at a hospital in Leominster, Massachusetts, told ABC’s Good Morning America on Monday, “Right now in my emergency room we are seeing a little bit of the calm before the storm.” He thanked Americans for donating home-made masks and gloves.

Protective N95 masks approved by the Centers for Disease Control and also cleared by the Food and Drug Administration used to cost about $1.00 each but now cost an average of $10.00 each. Many of the N95 masks sold online are substandard and overpriced.

 Earloop surgical masks used to cost an average of 15 cents each, but not anymore. One Amazon seller is offering 50 for $37.00 plus shipping if the buyer wants a guarantee it will arrive before the end of May. Prices vary widely but cost an average of between 30 cents to 50 cents each.

Some sellers are peddling earloop masks made with a very thin, 1-ply layer of protection instead of the standard 3-ply filter found in medical-grade masks. Most buyers may not realize they are purchasing dangerously shoddy, worthless masks until they receive them.

A translated Monday story in China Daily, owned by the Publicity Department of the Communist Party of China, gave an overview of the impact of the pandemic on the economy.

“From the nature and trend of changes in the main indicators, the impact of the epidemic is short-term and generally controllable, and part of the impact reflects the price to be paid to fight the epidemic, and there is no need to magnify its negative impact,” the writer argued.

“From January to February, the main [economic] indicators accounted for a small amount of the whole year, and there was a greater chance of making up losses later,” the writer surmised.

“Generally, the total economic volume in the second half of the year accounts for 55% of the full year and 45% in the first half of the year, with only about 20% in the first quarter. As long as the economy recovers faster after the second quarter, we have the opportunity to make up for the economic losses from January to February,” the writer concluded.

“Preliminary estimates are that the consumer demand suppressed by the epidemic is about 1.5 trillion yuan. These demands are expected to be gradually released after the epidemic is over, and consumer compensation and even retaliatory rebound will occur,” the writer predicted.

“The outbreak occurred during the Spring Festival. Generally speaking, the impact on demand was greater than the supply, the impact on the service industry was greater than the industry, and the impact on production capacity was small. The explosive growth of online consumption and smart economy has hedged some of the negative effects and opened up new space for high-quality economic development,” the writer added.

China’s state-run Xinhua News bragged earlier this month, “Be bold: The World owes China thank you.” The writer suggested that if China imposes restrictions on pharmaceutical exports to America it would be “plunged into the mighty sea of coronavirus.”

COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan after a contentious two-year trade war with the U.S. was nearing resolution with a humiliating loss for China. A deal to begin phase one of an anticipated two-part agreement with the Trump administration had just been signed on January 15, when the virus began to spread.

The president had announced that the U.S. and China are “writing the wrongs of the past and delivering a future of economic justice and security for American workers, farmers and families.” He said the deal had “total and full enforceability.”

It included a “dramatic expansion of U.S. food, agriculture and seafood product exports” as well as an agreement by China to end its long-standing practice of forcing or pressuring foreign companies to transfer their technologies to Chinese companies,

 It also reiterated U.S. opposition to currency manipulation and codified China’s commitment to buy at least $200 billion in U.S. exports over two years, including manufactured goods, food, agricultural, energy products and services.

The White House had expectations that Beijing would buy about $80 billion in manufactured goods, $53 billion in energy, $32 billion in agriculture and $35 billion in services.

 Now that China is bouncing back it will be interesting to see if they intend to abide by the terms of the agreement as the U.S. fights to contain the fallout from the pandemic at home.