07:02 GMT26 February 2020
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    The South Korean government on Tuesday announced that any sellers who hoard more than 1.5 times their average monthly sales volume of protective face masks or hand sanitizer amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak could face up to two years in prison or a fine of $42,000.

    The country’s Ministry of Economy and Finance noted that demand for face masks and hand sanitizer has led to a “sharp increase in prices” as a result of “hoarding.” At least 16 people in South Korea have been infected with the virus so far, AFP reported.

    The penalties for hoarding face masks and hand sanitizer will be in effect until April 30, the ministry confirmed.

    According to South Korean news agency Yonhap, around 180 police and antitrust watchdog inspectors will crack down on any hoarding activities. 

    "The government will do the following to discourage market manipulation, particularly in the face mask market,” South Korean Finance Minister Hong Nam Ki is quoted as saying earlier this week.

    The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday reported that more than 20,000 people worldwide have been infected by the coronavirus, which originated in China’s Hubei Province in December. In addition, at least 427 people have died from the virus so far, with 414 of the fatalities occurring in Hubei.

    Amid the rapid spread of the virus, the WHO has applauded Beijing’s response to the crisis, despite media reports criticizing the government.

    According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who met with Chinese leaders in Beijing last week, Chinese officials have demonstrated their commitment to halting the spread of the virus.

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