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Coronavirus: Masks ‘going for £125’ as profiteers take advantage of surging demand in Hong Kong

Profiteers are taking advantage of the coronavirus outbreak to make money out of a surge in demand for face masks.

In Hong Kong, where the memory of SARS is still imprinted on many people’s brains, some masks are going for as much as £125.

Overnight queues have become common when news spreads that a shop has a shipment, but people are often disappointed as the masks get quickly snapped up.

Image: Long lines outside pharmacies have become commonplace

Some are even taking advantage by selling used masks – some marked with stains and ear wax.

The government, already under pressure after months of protests, is doing little to help, Hong Kongers told Sky News.


“People have had to queue through the night to get masks; I’ve spoken to people who’ve queued from 8am then get there at 9am.

“Then they find the first 20 people have taken them all, so there’s a lot of anger,” says Joanne Bunker, a journalist and founder of the Newsworthy HK Facebook page.

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Prices in shops over the past few days have varied wildly, from £8 for one mask – still expensive compared with the standard 19p price – to a shocking £125.

Image: A woman clutches a box of masks after lining up in Hong Kong How the virus has spread around the world

Online searches for face masks have increased dramatically, with “P2 face mask” rising by 8507% and “face protection mask” soaring by 1340% since the start of the year.

Artist Pete Ross, 34, who has lived in Hong Kong his whole life, said: “I would love to be wearing them all the time but I haven’t been able to get them, so I’ve been washing a lot.

“I’m running an exhibition and a man came in coughing which was fairly alarming.”

Image: This woman in Beijing showed off an inventive way to protect herself Image: A man wearing a mask, goggles and gloves at a supermarket in Beijing

One Hong Konger told Sky News they saw a man buying about 400 masks from a hospital vending machine and despite people telling him he was selfish, he kept buying them.

Many are having to save up the one single-use mask they have for when they go outside, and with no help from the government they are losing hope.

Chief executive Carrie Lam has been accused of a lack of communication and failing to quell rumours swirling around the city.

Some people have claimed the government has a stockpile of three million masks, others that authorities have ordered up to 32 million to distribute.

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However, the government has not commented, and has so far not distributed any masks.

During the SARS outbreak in 2002, authorities handed out free masks and hand sanitisers across the city – especially to schools and old people’s homes.

Ms Bunker said: “The last seven months of protests have been the foundation of that mistrust and we’ve now moved to the coronavirus.

“People are even more infuriated by her (Carrie Lam) as we need a strong government, but she’s not doing it.”

Not only are people selling masks for way over the odds, some are steaming used ones and putting them back in boxes to sell in small convenience stores.

Others are not even bothering to steam clean them – placing stained masks in boxes which people only find out about after queuing and paying exorbitant prices.

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Internet sales are also proving risky, with orders either not arriving or being equally as expensive.

Some are buying from sites such as eBay and meeting sellers in underground stations or on the streets.

But among the profiteering there are some good Samaritans; notably an Indian businessman who runs a small chain of grocery shops in Hong Kong.

Ms Bunker said: “He’s ordered 200,000 masks and is handing them out to customers.

Image: A Hong Konger stands next to empty shelves in a supermarket

“He said he’s been in Hong Kong for 15 years and Hongkongers have been good to him, so as long as the virus continues he will pay out of his own pocket.

“I’ve also had people being kind to me, dropping off masks they’ve managed to buy.

“Some people who have returned from overseas are bringing back suitcases of masks and handing them out or selling them for the normal low price.”


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