Chinese market regulators have pledged "strict, severe and swift" crackdown on price-related illegalities involving coronavirus prevention supplies including protective face masks, launching thousands of investigations and giving heft fines to those cashing in on the epidemic.
By the end of Friday, the country had seen over 1.7 million law enforcement officer dispatches and filed more than 3,600 cases of price violations, the State Administration for Market Regulation said Saturday.
Over 720 cases already saw penalties given, as the enhanced law enforcement effectively curbed price violations in the prevention gear market and ensured steady price amid a tight supply.
Law enforcement has gathered momentum after the administration on Jan. 25 demanded market regulators at all levels toughen their crackdown on violations including price collusions, hikes and frauds.
Regulators in regions including Beijing and Shanghai have stepped up fines to those hiking prices of masks and other disease prevention supplies, imposing fines from 2 million yuan to 3 million yuan.
Since the outbreak of the epidemic, the top market watchdog has named and shamed 36 typical cases of price violations, 29 of which were related to face masks.
One of the cases involved a drug store in Fengtai District of Beijing, which was caught red-handed by market regulators for offering a type of 10-pack 3M-brand mask at nearly six times the price it could be bought online to customers.
Beijing Jimin Kangtai Pharmacy will have to pay 3 million yuan in fines, the ceiling of penalties stipulated under price violation regulations, which set a minimum fine of 500,000 yuan for those behind severe price spikes.
"The Beijing market authorities decided to give the top-notch fines and made public the case, which will serve as a strong deterence on business illegalities and keep the prices of medicines and protective gears stable," said Qiu Baochang, a lawyer with the China Consumers Association.
To help secure a victory in the battle against the coronavirus, the administration has also vowed to fight price gouging of daily necessities like vegetables, meat, dairy products and eggs with severe punishments.
The moves came as the country stepped up efforts to curb the spread of the virus, including extending the Lunar New Year holiday, imposing preventive travel restrictions in some cities and ramping up production of medical supplies.
First identified in the city of Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province, the novel coronavirus quickly spread across the country. By the end of Friday, overall confirmed cases on the Chinese mainland reached 34,546, with 722 deaths.