Indonesia seizes half a million virus masks amid panic buying

JAKARTA (AFP) – Indonesian police seized over half a million face masks from a Jakarta-area warehouse after the country’s first confirmed cases of coronavirus sparked panic buying and sent prices for prevention products skyrocketing.

Authorities were questioning two people after the Tuesday evening raid at a warehouse in satellite city Tangerang, where nearly 600,000 surgical masks were found.

The owners did not have permission to distribute the masks, police said.

“Mask prices have skyrocketed everywhere and there are shortages, most likely because hoarders are trying to make money at the public’s expense,” Jakarta police spokesman Yusri Yunus told AFP yesterday.

Those convicted of hoarding masks could face up to five years in jail and hefty fines, police said.

The warehouse raid came after hundreds of boxes of surgical masks were also seized on Tuesday at a Jakarta apartment.

And police said they busted a factory at the weekend allegedly making and distributing counterfeit masks that did not meet health standards “Those masks are useless,” Yunus said.

“They won’t protect people who use them.” The crackdown was ordered by Indonesian President Joko Widodo who has called on citizens to avoid panic buying – even as store shelves are cleared and prices soar for masks and hand sanitisers.

Indonesian officials stand before boxes of seized face masks following a raid in Tangerang. PHOTO: AFP