SEJONG -- South Korea said Thursday it will step up efforts to stabilize supplies of face masks, as demand has soared over the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Vice Finance Minister Kim Yong-beom told a meeting with relevant officials that the government will also take stern measures against those who hoard face masks or illegally ship them overseas.
Currently, South Korean firms have enough materials to make about 10 million masks per day, Kim said.
Earlier this month, the government approved tougher penalties on the hoarding of protective masks and hand sanitizer after the spread of the COVID-19 virus, which originated in China.
Under the new rules, a person who hoards such products will face a prison sentence of up to two years or a maximum fine of 50 million won ($42,000).
The government also decided to push forward measures to compel manufacturers and wholesalers of protective face masks and hand sanitizer to report to the authorities before shipping or selling their products.
Under the planned measures, all manufacturers are required to make daily reports on 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.
Meanwhile, customs authorities said Thursday they had discovered unauthorized shipments of 730,000 face masks between Feb. 6 and Wednesday.
Most cases of unauthorized shipments involved Chinese people who sought to sell the masks in mainland China, according to authorities.
For instance, a Chinese citizen was found trying to ship 2,285 masks to Shanghai without approval, authorities said. (Yonhap)