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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 112
COVID-19 and civilian hoarding of medical masks: Time for legal measures

Master of Law (University of Antwerp)Independent researcher

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Date of Submission17-Mar-2020
Date of Acceptance16-Apr-2020
Date of Web Publication22-May-2020

How to cite this article:
Van den Eynde V. COVID-19 and civilian hoarding of medical masks: Time for legal measures. J Global Infect Dis 2020;12:112

How to cite this URL:
Van den Eynde V. COVID-19 and civilian hoarding of medical masks: Time for legal measures. J Global Infect Dis [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Oct 15];12:112. Available from:


While the World Health Organization advocates for the use of medical masks when caring for suspected COVID-19 patients[1], practical barriers threaten adherence[2]: global medical mask supplies are low and dwindling still[3]. This is a multifactorial phenomenon: some factors are beyond reasonable control, some are not; the civilian hoarding of medical masks[3],[4] appears to me to fall in the latter category.

As a prime example of panic-driven, reasonably unreasonable conduct, civilian hoarding may indeed be counteracted to some important extent by repeatedly invoking “positive peer pressure” through various social awareness campaigns, but uniform enactment is all but guaranteed, and significant social impunity looms.

For this reason, I believe that the time is now or never for governments to consider the adoption of temporary legal measures – provided such is permissible within the parameters of constitutional and/or international law safeguards – which limit the public use of medical masks to healthcare professionals on duty.

Following enactment, transgressions must be penalized, predictably and foreseeably – as well as swiftly and appreciably – to ensure sufficient dissuasive effect.

Post-acceptance update (29 April 2020): This paper addresses considerations on the optimal allocation of scarce goods in a high-pressure context that is by nature rapidly evolving; it is therefore prudent to note that policy and law are apt to change as pragmatic constraints lessen. For this reason, I wish to add in conclusion that, as public life gradually resumes, the mandatory use of face masks (medical-grade or not) in certain locations may prove vital in curbing the coronavirus pandemic; some countries have indeed enacted laws to this effect. I wish to encourage strict adherence to said laws.

   References Top

World Health Organization. Advice on the use of masks in the community, during home care and in healthcare settings in the context of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak – interim guidance, 29 January 2020. Available from:  Back to cited text no. 1
Leung CC, Lam TH, Cheng KK. Mass masking in the COVID-19 epidemic: people need guidance. Lancet 2020 [Published online on 3 March; doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736 (20) 30520-1].  Back to cited text no. 3

Correspondence Address:
Vincent Van den Eynde
Master of Law (University of Antwerp)Independent researcher

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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jgid.jgid_46_20

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2008 Journal of Global Infectious Diseases | Published by Wolters Kluwer - Medknow
Online since 10th December, 2008