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As coronavirus spreads, suppliers are rationing face masks
02:58 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The Australian government will punish people convicted of illegally exporting masks, hand sanitizer or other personal protective equipment with hefty fines, under newly invoked biosecurity laws.

Home Minister Peter Dutton’s office said in a statement Wednesday that the fines were one of several new emergency measures being adopted by the government to keep dwindling medical supplies inside the country as doctors attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

To date, more than 5,000 people in Australia, including Dutton himself, have contracted the virus.

Under the new measures, authorities have amended customs regulations to “stop exploitative exports of essential goods,” and to ensure that all surrendered medical supplies are redistributed to the national stockpile.

Violating the customs law is punishable by a fine of up to 210,000 Australian dollars ($128,275), while those found guilty of violating the Biosecurity Act could face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to 63,000 Australian dollars ($38,480), Dutton’s office said.

“These measures have become necessary because we have seen a small number of individuals engaging in the bulk purchasing of essential goods from retail outlets in Australia, with the intent of profiteering from exploitative exporting and price gouging,” the statement read.

Like many countries around the world, Australia is currently dealing with a shortage of equipment needed to protect medical workers treating patients who have contracted the novel coronavirus.

“We’ve taken the steps to protect Australia’s interest, to stop unauthorized, inappropriate exporting of those things that we rely upon for our health care and so on at present,” trade minister Simon Birmingham said in an interview with Australia’s ABC News yesterday.

Other countries like the United States and South Korea have enacted similar measures or are considering them.