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Indonesia Seizes Half a Million Virus Masks Amid Panic Buying

Representative Image. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Representative Image. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

The crackdown was ordered by Indonesian president Joko Widodo who has called on citizens to avoid panic buying even as store shelves are emptying fast and prices of masks and hand sanitizers keep soaring.

Jakarta: Indonesian police seized over half a million face masks from a Jakarta warehouse after the country's first confirmed cases of Coronavirus sparked panic buying and sent prices for preventive products skyrocketing.

Authorities questioned 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.

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 seized on Tuesday from a Jakarta apartment.

Police said they also busted a factory for allegedly making and distributing counterfeit masks that did not meet health standards. "Those masks are useless, they wont protect people," Yunus said.

The crackdown was ordered by Indonesian president Joko Widodo who has called on citizens to avoid panic buying even as store shelves are emptying fast and prices of masks and hand sanitizers keep soaring.

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

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."

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 didn't report a confirmed case until this week.