Three masked robbers appeared at dawn on Monday outside a Hong Kong supermarket. There, they held a deliveryman at knife point and made off with over a hundred dollars worth of one of the most sought after commodities in this city of seven million people – toilet paper.
Toilet paper has been sold out across the city for weeks after a run on the product was prompted by rumors that manufacturers in mainland China would cease production or that the border would be sealed as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Retailers have dispelled the rumor, saying there is no genuine shortage. But bulk packs of toilet paper are snatched off supermarket shelves almost as soon as they are restocked and city blocks are crowded with residents lined up at shops just to buy the product.
So short is the supply that lovers exchanged individual rolls on Valentine’s Day as a sort of pragmatic joke. Online, users have offered to barter surgical masks, which actually are in short supply, for a few rolls of toilet paper. And one hoarder was shamed on (social media) when neighbors spotted an apartment whose windows were crowded by a wall of toilet paper rolls.
The toilet paper stolen in Monday’s heist was later discovered stashed at a hotel, local news outlets reported, but the perpetrators remain at large. The police said two people had been arrested in connection to the heist, but they were looking for others.
Last week, the police arrested a man charged with stealing eight boxes of heavy-duty face masks, known as N – 140 masks, from a parked car after smashing its windows.
China Inc. is slow to reopen its doors.