Coronavirus panic led to Hong Kong toilet paper theft at knifepoint: police

Two masked thieves in Hong Kong were arrested Monday after holding a delivery man at knifepoint and stealing hundreds of rolls of toilet paper, as panic over a lack of supplies grows in the world financial hub currently fending off the widespread outbreak of the coronavirus on the Chinese mainland.

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A group of three men wearing masks approached a delivery man around 6 a.m. local time outside the Wellcome Supermarket in Hong Kong’s Mong Kok district. One man wielded a knife. They then stole more than 600 rolls of toilet paper worth about $130 from the delivery truck, police said.

Two of the men were later arrested, police said. Hong Kong authorities said they also recovered the stolen toilet paper. Police are still searching for a third man involved. The robbery took place in an area of Hong Kong known for its history of “triad” crime gangs, BBC News reported.

People queue up to buy face masks in Hong Kong, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

People queue up to buy face masks in Hong Kong, Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

According to local officials, there have been 58 confirmed cases of the novel strain of coronavirus, known as COVID-19, in Hong Kong. Authorities have tried to quiet fears over a lack of supplies in the city and have urged residents not to buy supplies like toilet paper in bulk. One person died in Hong Kong last week after becoming ill with the virus – the first death in the city.

Social media images showed Hong Kong residents hoarding supplies in their small apartments, the New York Post reported. The supermarket where the robbery occurred denounced the “senseless” toilet paper heist, assuring residents that recent, temporary shortages were caused by people overbuying.

“We want to emphasize that we have sufficient toilet roll supply to meet demand,” Wellcome Supermarket said in a statement. “The temporary shortage was caused by the sudden and unusual surge in demand.”

At least five people have died outside of mainland China from the virus. In total, more than 70,500 people in China have been infected with COVID-19 and 1,770 have died on the mainland, Chinese officials said.

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On Monday, China’s National Health Commission announced 105 new deaths over the past 24 hours. Most of those deaths were in the Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, but three new deaths were recorded in neighboring Henan Province and two in Guangdong, the province next to Hong Kong.