Jakarta. President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on Tuesday instructed the National Police to crack down on people stockpiling facemasks, as fears of a Covid-19 outbreak triggered by annoucement of the first two confirmed cases of the infection in Indonesia yesterday caused a drastic spike in demand.
Supplies of certain types of facemasks, most notably the N95 produced by 3M, were scarce even online, leading prices to soar beyond the recommended retail price.
Jokowi said he had asked National Police Chief General Idham Azis to deal with the issue.
"I have ordered the police chief to take stern measures against irresponsible people who take advantage by hoarding facemasks and selling them at a very high price," Jokowi said at the State Palace in Central Jakarta.
"They must be careful because I have delivered this warning," he said.
On Monday, the president announced the country's first local transmission case of the novel coronavirus, which affected a mother and her daughter in Depok, West Java.
Before the announcement, an N95 particulate respirator cost Rp 350,000 ($25) but today it was sold for Rp 1.5 million at leading online marketplaces. Meanwhile, the price of a box of regular masks increased tenfold to Rp 400,000.
Speaking separately, Jakarta Police spokesman Chief Comr. Yusri Yunus said the illegal stockpiling of facemasks may constitute a crime under the 2014 Law on Commerce.
"Businesspeople who accumulate or hoard basic commodities and/or much-needed goods during a shortage when prices fluctuate can face a sentence of up to five years imprisonment and a fine of up to Rp 5 billion," Yusri quoted an article of the law.
The Jakarta Police raided an illegal facemask factory in Cilincing, North Jakarta, on Friday, arresting at least 10 suspects and seizing around 30,000 facemasks which police said were poorly manufactured and violated the government's health requirements.
The factory began production in January after the novel coronavirus outbreak started in earnest from the Chinese city of Wuhan. According to the police, the factory owners tried to reap financial gains by taking advantage of increasingly desperate customes and disregarding production standards issued by the Health Ministry and related state agencies.