+ A

Officials cracking down on face mask hoarders

Feb 06,2020
The Ministry of Economy and Finance plans to crack down on people hoarding masks and hand sanitizer as the coronavirus drives a shortage in hygiene items.

“Previously, when a person took more than 1,000 [units] or 2 million won [$1,700] worth of masks or hand sanitizer outside Korea at once, he or she could go through a streamlined export process. But from now on, they will have to go through a full process,” Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said Wednesday.

Those convicted of hoarding masks or hand sanitizer will face prison terms of up to two years or fines of up to 50 million won.

“In a crisis time like this, the government is determined to eradicate any action that is pointed at taking excessive profits or evading taxes, which is putting the safety of people at risk,” Hong said.

From now on, the National Police Agency and Korea Customs Service will also take part in the joint government body, formed in January to control the marketplace. It consists of the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, the Fair Trade Commission, the National Tax Service and regional offices.

The skyrocketing demand for masks has resulted in inventory shortages in many retail outlets. Some stores have resorted to restricting the number of masks a person can purchase at a time. Emart said Tuesday it would set a limit of 30 masks per person. Its affiliate Traders said it would limit purchases to only one box of masks at a time.

Hong also announced additional support plans for small business owners in Korea who have been hard-hit by depressed consumption due to the Chinese epidemic’s spread.

The government will extend their tax deadlines nine to 12 months, depending on the type of taxes, for small business owners and self-employed people who have been affected by the virus. The ministry also said it would temporarily suspend or delay ongoing tax investigations.

To help domestic companies facing supply disruptions due to factory shutdowns in China, the ministry added that it would operate a 24-hour customs support bureau.

BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]