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Pharmacies in Toronto forced to jack up prices if they want to sell hand sanitizer and masks

In the past few weeks, it's been beyond difficult for just about anyone to secure hand sanitizer, face masks, disinfectant wipes and other items that have become frighteningly in-demand as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens — even pharmacies and stores themselves.

A few retailers in Toronto have recently been accused of price gouging for such products, which is not a good look at a time when the public is feeling particularly vulnerable, financially and otherwise.

Resale websites like Kijiji even had to ban the aforementioned items from their platforms because people were listing them at such ridiculously high prices (and making a killing doing so).

Some customers thought independent Toronto pharmacy College Centre Pharmacy II, at College and Bathurst, was doing the same after noticing its prices for hand sanitizer and N95 facemasks — $25 per 236 mL bottle of the former, and $50 for two of the latter.

A Twitter user posted photos of the pricetags of both items, saying "This is absolutely disgusting! My local pharmacy is profiteering on the suffering of our community by charging obscene amounts for hand sanitizer and N95s. Shouldn’t this be illegal?"

But, management at the pharmacy says that though it looks bad on their end, the retail prices shown are only a dollar more than they themselves paid for the products.

"None of our normal suppliers have them, so we had to go get them from Amazon," management said. "Prices are getting hiked up everywhere by suppliers... it's really just an unfortunate situation."

A fellow pharmacy owner in Guelph, Ontario had a similar reply to the complaint on Twitter, saying "Last week I [had] 3 suppliers offer hand sanitizers for $10 for 236ml, $4.99 for 116 ml, $150 for 4 litre gallon. It’s not the pharmacies... go to Amazon & see the ridiculous prices."

College Centre Pharmacy has since sold out of most of both products and will be using the remaining quantities for staff, who say they don't anticipate stocking any more to the public given the scarce quantities and high costs.

Another independent pharmacy, Infinity Health Pharmacy on Lower Simcoe, has had a similar issue trying to secure things like alcohol swabs, hydrogen peroxide, digital thermometers, face masks and hand sanitizer in the midst of the coronavirus situation.

"I wish I could get my hands on any” pharmacist and owner Peter Shams said, adding that he doesn't even have supply of the above products for staff to use. He also says distributors have been restricting the number of units of medication that the pharmacy can release each day to prevent stockpiling.

Though there are some individuals and companies out there that are looking to profit off of a bad situation, it's important to keep in mind that this isn't the case for every store charging more than usual for certain items right now.

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