Government officials in South Korea are warning its citizens to not “hoard” face masks and hand sanitizers as the outbreak of the novel coronavirus — which has caused a sharp rise in demand for such items — continues to spread.
Officials with the South Korean Ministry of Economy and Finance on Tuesday approved the stricter penalties, which went into effect on Wednesday and will be enforced until April 30, The Korea Herald reported. Those who are accused of hoarding such products could see up to two years of jail time or a fine of 50 million won, about $42,000.
“The government will do the following to discourage market manipulation, particularly in the face mask market,” South Korean Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said, according to the outlet.
Industry watchers told The Korea Herald that Chinese tourists and merchants on a “buying binge” in South Korea, which has reported at least 16 cases of the virus, may have contributed to the shortage in the country.
However, an infectious disease doctor previously told Fox News that there isn’t a lot of evidence that face masks really prevent acquiring or spreading disease.
Surgical masks, which cover the nose and mouth, are often made from a flimsy material and aren’t fitted to the face. Spaces and gaps can form around the cheeks and edges of the mouth, making it easy for air to move in and out.
Surgical masks will not prevent your acquiring diseases,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, and the medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.
The news comes after a South Korean woman earlier this week tested positive for the coronavirus after taking a trip to Thailand — marking the first time a foreign tourist has become infected after visiting the country.