Indonesia seizes over half a million masks while Russia bans their export

By: AFP      Published: 03:01 PM, 4 Mar, 2020
Indonesia seizes over half a million masks while Russia bans their export

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 Wednesday.

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 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.

Major cities including Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney have also seen panic buying sparked by the virus.

Indonesians, meanwhile, are scooping up a traditional herbal tonic known as jamu and in one city sellers dressed as Batman and local superhero Gundala were handing out the drink to motorists.

"My sales have more than doubled since Monday," said Nur Hidayati, 29, a jamu seller in Bogor near Jakarta.

"People tell me they want jamu to stay healthy and immune from the virus."

On Monday, Indonesia confirmed its first coronavirus cases, saying a 64-year-old woman and her daughter, 31, tested positive.

Globally, coronavirus has infected more than 90,000 people and killed at least 3,100 people.

But Indonesia -- a Southeast Asian archipelago of more than 260 million -- had yet to report a confirmed case until this week.

Russia

Russia has banned the export of masks, respirators and hazmat suits to ensure access to the items for medics treating coronavirus patients and the public, under a decree published Wednesday.

The ban covers 17 types of equipment including face masks, plastic shoe covers, gloves, surgical scrubs, gas masks, hazmat suits and "reusable anti-plague" suits.

The ban aims "to protect the interests of Russian citizens" as the coronavirus outbreak has killed more than 3,000 people and infected around 92,000 globally.

It does not affect supplies leaving the country as humanitarian aid or for personal use. The decree is dated Monday, when it entered force, and is set to expire on June 1.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last month called for the closure of pharmacies that hike prices for face masks.

Russia has had six confirmed cases of coronavirus, including three people repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship off Japan and two Chinese citizens. The first case in Moscow, a Russian man who had travelled to Italy, was announced Monday.

The country has imposed a near blanket ban on visits by Chinese citizens, although flagship airline Aeroflot is still running some flights to and from China.

It has also restricted entry for Iranians and for those travelling from South Korea.