Coronavirus News: Sellers accused of price gouging amid sanitizer shortage

NEW YORK -- Some sellers on Amazon are accused of exploiting fears about the novel coronavirus by dramatically increasing the price of antibacterial products.

Fear of the coronavirus has led people to stock up on hand sanitizer, leaving store shelves empty and online retailers with sky-high prices set by those trying to profit on the rush.

On Tuesday, the website showed Purell priced at $199 for a four-pack, or $400 for a 24-pack.

A case was going for more than $800.

Sales of hand sanitizers in the U.S. were up 73% in the four weeks ending Feb. 22 compared to the same period a year ago, according to market research firm Nielsen.

Eyewitness News reached out to Amazon for a comment, and a company spokesperson said:

"There is no place for price gouging on Amazon. We are disappointed that bad actors are attempting to artificially raise prices on basic need products during a global health crisis."

Amazon confirmed that it has removed more than 1 million products for misleading claims or price gouging amid the novel coronavirus outbreak, ABC News reported.

In addition to the tens of thousands of offers removed due to price gouging, the company also confirmed it recently blocked or removed more than 1 million products for suspect or misleading claims as the COVID-19 outbreak fuels worldwide anxiety.

Some consumers say hand sanitizers are hard to find in general.

Gaelen Gates says she trekked to two Walgreens, a Safeway and a CVS this week and couldn't find any.

The attorney, who lives in San Francisco, is not worried about the new virus, she's just trying to avoid getting a cold at a music and film festival she plans to attend later this month in Austin, Texas.

If she can't find any by the time of her trip, she has a plan: wash her hands more frequently and "try not to touch anything."

The alcohol-based gunk is convenient, but hand sanitizer isn't the best way to clean your hands. For that, soap and water still reigns supreme, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency recommends first washing hands with warm or cold water and then lathering soap for 20 seconds to get it on the backs of hands, between fingers and under finger nails before rinsing off.

If you're not near a sink, hand sanitizer will do. But keep in mind that it doesn't kill all germs, the CDC says. Read the label and make sure you're using one that has at least 60% alcohol, the health agency says. After applying it, rub it all over your hands until they're dry. Another tip: don't touch your face, since health officials say viruses could enter your body from your eyes, mouth or nose.

Purell, the best-selling hand sanitizer, is pumping up production. Walmart and other stores say they are talking to suppliers to stock up bare shelves, but didn't say how long that could take.

Purell says it has seen higher demand from health care facilities in addition to stores. It is adding more shifts and having employees work overtime at the two Ohio facilities where most Purell is made, says Samantha Williams, a spokeswoman for its parent company Gojo Industries.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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