South Korea said Monday it has launched a probe into a firm that illegally hoarded more than 1 million face masks amid the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said it found a firm that hoarded 1,050,000 masks, the single largest amount since Seoul launched a government-wide crackdown last week on illegal business practices regarding protective masks and hand sanitizer in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.
According to the investigative authorities, the firm advertised on the internet that it would sell 1,050,000 masks for 1.4 billion won (US$1.17 million) and gathered buyers at a highway rest area before taking them to its warehouse.
Seoul has mobilized 30 teams comprising 180 inspectors, including ones from the police and the antitrust watchdog, to crack down on hoarding activities.
Last week, South Korea approved tougher penalties against the hoarding of protective masks and hand sanitizer after the new coronavirus outbreak sparked a sharp rise in demand.
Under the new rules, a person who engages in hoarding of such products will face a prison sentence of up to two years or a maximum fine of 50 million won (US$42,000).
South Korea also decided to push forward measures to mandate that manufacturers and wholesalers of protective face masks and hand sanitizer report to the government before shipping or selling their products.
Under the planned measures, all manufacturers have to report to the government every day the amount delivered in the domestic market as well as the amount to be exported.
To help solve the shortage of masks and hand sanitizer, the Ministry of SMEs and Startups said it will release 1 million face masks and 140,000 bottles of hand sanitizer through its home shopping channel on Feb. 17.
State-run Gongyoung Shopping said its masks will be sold at 1,000 won each, one-third the price of similar masks currently sold in the market.