BANGKOK, March 4 (Bernama) -- Thai police made a revolting discovery when they raided a house in Saraburi Province in Central Thailand on Monday and learned that at least 200,000 used face masks were distributed to the domestic market.

Acting on a tip-off, police raided the house in Nong Suang subdistrict in Saraburi Province and found six workers busy sorting, washing and ironing the face masks as well as repackaging them in boxes to be sold as new.

The police also found bags of used face masks in the house, believed to be destined for recycling.

One of the workers told the police that they earn 1 baht per recycled face mask, and they reprocess about 300 to 400 masks per day per person.

Saraburi Provincial Police Chief, Pol Maj Gen Chaiwat Arunwat, said police arrested three people – a 47-year-old house owner and two accomplices aged 44 and 46 – on Monday.

“The suspects sell the used face masks online for three baht each.

“The suspects admitted that they recycled at least 200,000 face masks for 20 days before the raid,” he told a press conference, here, today.

The authority seized all the face masks in the house and sent the samples to the Ministry of Commerce to determine the origin.

Due to shortages caused by panic buying during the COVID-19 outbreak, face masks have become a hot item across Asia. Many took the opportunity to make extra cash including raising the prices of face masks to 20 to 50 baht per piece.

Chaiwat said an investigation revealed that the suspects bought the used face masks from a recycled shop in Nong Moo in Wihan Daeng in Saraburi Province.

“We will intensify investigation and conduct search at shops and factories,” he said.

Meanwhile, the case's investigator, Pol. Lt. Col. Samran Soreekun, said the trio was charged under Section 343 of the Penal Code (Public Fraud) which provides imprisonment of up to five years and a fine of up to 10,000 baht or both if found guilty.   

 “The other workers including the house owner’s son will be witnesses in this case,” he told Bernama when contacted.

He added that no victims filed police reports against the suspects thus far.

To date, there are 43 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the kingdom and 31 patients have been discharged, while 11 are undergoing treatment.

Thailand reported its first COVID-19 fatality on Saturday.