Armed gang steals hundreds of toilet rolls as fears of supply shortage grow in Hong Kong

WION Web Team New Delhi, Delhi, India Feb 17, 2020, 06.47 PM(IST)

The image showing empty supermarket in Hong Kong Photograph:( AFP )

Story highlights

A police spokesman said that toilet paper rolls worth more than HK$1,000 ($130)

A gang of knife-wielding men stole hundreds of toilet rolls after threatening a deliver driver in Hong Kong, where panic-buying is seen recently due to shortages affected by the coronavirus.  

Toilet rolls have become hot property in Hong Kong, despite assurances by the administration that the novel virus has not caused any scarcity.

Police said that a truck driver was held up early on Monday by three men outside a supermarket in Mong Kok. The district is infamous for "triad" organised crime gangs.

Also read: Hong Kong announces punitive measures as it races against time to contain coronavirus

A police spokesman said that toilet paper rolls worth more than HK$1,000 ($130).

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A police source said that the toilet rolls were later recovered and two suspects were arrested. However, it was not clear if the suspects themselves carried out the robbery.

Supermarkets are often found unable to restock toilet rolls quickly enough, causing lengthy queues and shelves getting empty within moments of opening.

The incident led to amusing and baffling reactions from the Hong Kongers.

"I'd steal face masks, but not toilet roll," a woman said who was passing by the scene of the crime to local TV station iCable. 

The city, where 58 coronavirus cases are confirmed, is currently facing a genuine shortage of face masks.

Behind Hong Kong's panic-buying, there is a history of distrust where another deadly disease caused a large number of deaths.

In 20003, some 299 Hong Kongers died of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), an outbreak that was started in mainland China, who tried to cover it up in the first place.

The coronavirus outbreak also came at a time when Hong Kong was witnessing months of massive pro-democracy protests, which severely criticised the mainland for its authoritarian regime.

However, Hong Kong officials blamed online rumours for the panic-buying and claim that supplies of food and household goods remain adequate.

Social media users also posted photos of proudly stocking stuffing their homes with hoarded toilet rolls.

Calling the robbery a "senseless act", Supermarket chain Wellcome said in a statement that there are sufficient toilet roll supplies to meet the demand.

"The temporary shortage was caused by a sudden and unusual surge in demand."