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Face masks, hygiene products running out amid new coronavirus outbreak

All News 15:40 January 31, 2020

By Kim Han-joo

SEOUL, Jan. 31 (Yonhap) -- Demand for protective face masks and hand sanitizer has soared here as both local residents and travelers from China stocked up as a precaution against the new type of coronavirus, industry sources said Friday.

Just days after the first case of the new strain of the pneumonia-like virus was confirmed in the country, surgical masks began selling out at pharmacies in Myeongdong, one of Seoul's most visited tourist spots among Chinese travelers.

The visitors from mainland China and Hong Kong lined up outside drug stores to purchase boxes of face masks to help protect themselves as there had as yet been no major shortages here.

A group of Chinese visitors carry boxes of face masks purchased from a drug store in Myeongdong, central Seoul, on Jan. 31, 2020. (Yonhap)

As of Friday, South Korea has reported 11 confirmed cases of the novel virus, which has killed more than 200 in China.

The sources said stocks of face masks ran out quickly at branches of the country's major 24-hour convenience stores, such as CU and 7-Eleven, prompting operators to control inventory.

BGF Retail Co., the operator of CU, said sales of hand sanitizer and mouthwash more than doubled after news emerged of a confirmed human-to-human transmission of the virus.

Packs of face masks have been sold out on major shopping websites as well, with customers experiencing cancellations and retailers saying they do not know when or whether the products will be back in stock.

Several vendors selling masks and hand sanitizer on e-commerce marketplaces, including Gmarket and Auction, have come under fire for charging up to 10 times the going rate for the masks.

In an effort to soothe the general public's concern, the government said it will crack down on retailers driving up the prices of such sanitary items.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said it has launched a nationwide inspection into distribution network of surgical masks and hand sanitizer to assure that supply is well maintained.

This photo, provided by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety on Jan. 31, 2020, shows its chief, Lee Eui-kyung (R), visiting a local warehouse storing face masks. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)


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