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Continued Shortage of Hand Sanitizers, Antibacterial Wipes Expected Amid Global Demand

By on March 18, 2020

Along With Panic Buying, Private Sector Blames Inventory Tax

SAN JUAN — Amid the shortage of hand sanitizers, antibacterial wipes and other personal hygiene products during the past couple of weeks since news of the novel coronavirus outbreak snowballed, Puerto Rico private sector leaders said Tuesday that the lack of availability of these products on the island will continue due to their global demand.

“At this time, food and health products are arriving in the island normally,” Puerto Rico Retail Association President Iván Báez told Caribbean Business. “Certainly, there is a big lack of hand sanitizers, rubbing alcohol, antibacterial hygiene products. We have a shortage of those products and there will continue to be shortage because of the global demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.”

If the lockdown is extended, Báez said the private sector is asking for the citizenry’s cooperation “to contain the contagion of people with the coronavirus so we can quickly return to normalcy.”

Although he said there is currently sufficient merchandise, some items have to start being limited so a shortage doesn’t take place.

“There is a shortage of toilet paper and it’s completely unnecessary,” he said.

Puerto Rico Chamber of Food Marketing, Industry & Distribution (MIDA by its Spanish acronym) President Manuel Reyes, concurred with Báez, saying that the main shortage is of disinfecting products.

“There is a global limitation of these products,” Reyes stressed.

“As for the rest of the products, what we are telling people is this is not a hurricane and that this executive order should not lead people to only purchase products they would purchase if a hurricane were coming,” he said, adding that amassing certain items could result in a shortage of canned food and bottled water, for example.

“We are letting people know they can purchase other foods because we have electricity and potable water,” such as “fresh meat, frozen foods,” Reyes said. “And we are sending that message and thus far I believe it is working and people have been balancing a bit better the groceries they are buying.”

Reyes explained that hand sanitizer orders are being delayed.

“So there is a limitation at a global level,” he said, adding that there are initiatives to start producing hand sanitizer in Puerto Rico, but until that happens they are informing citizens to use substitute products.

“Water and soap are possibly more effective than hand sanitizers and we have those items,” Reyes said.

Regarding a legislative measure that is being discussed to temporarily eliminate the island’s tax on local inventory, he said eliminating the tax would help stores stock up on items before an emergency strikes.

“But taking this step now is late for this emergency,” he assured. “We need to have inventories before the emergency so that when it happens we already have the inventory.”

He added, however, that if there is a global shortage of any item, there will be a shortage in Puerto Rico, too.

“We have to adapt our behavior and use other similar items. But we don’t think it will turn into a situation that we are going to run out of food in general,” he said.

Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce (CofC) President José Ledesma said he has been warning the government for about three weeks that about 20 percent of what is purchased at supermarkets and stores comes from China, and whether the novel coronavirus arrived “here or not, there was going to be a shortage of products that come from China.”

He said there are no surgical masks and other items being used in China and Italy by people to protect themselves from being exposed to the virus. The related supplies that have arrived have been distributed to healthcare professionals, he assured. 

“We are not in a real crisis yet; in Italy and China everybody wears these masks, and we don’t have them here,” Ledesma noted. “The priority is distributing them to healthcare professionals, but as more positive cases are confirmed, everybody has to protect themselves.”

“We can’t stay in our homes forever,” he added. “We have to learn to live with this and take the necessary precautions, but we must remain productive. So I think the lockdown is an emergency measure to try and curb this. But people don’t have these items to protect themselves if they go outside and the businesses don’t have these products to protect their staff.”

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