President Donald Trump listens as the Attorney General William Barr participates in a news briefing by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Monday. Photo by Chris Kleponis/UPI | License Photo
March 23 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump on Monday signed an executive order to prevent hoarding and price gouging for supplies needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a briefing by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Trump and Attorney General William Barr outlined the order which bans the hoarding of vital medical equipment and supplies including hand sanitizer, face masks and personal protection equipment.
"We want to prevent price gouging and critical health and medical resources are going to be protected in every form," Trump said.
The order will allow Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to designate certain essential supplies as scarce, which will make it a crime to stockpile those items in excessive quantities.
Barr said the limits prohibit stockpiling in amounts greater than "reasonable personal or business needs" or for the purpose of selling them in "excess of prevailing market prices" adding that the order is not aimed at consumers or businesses stockpiling supplies for their own operation.
"We're talking about people hoarding these goods and materials on an industrial scale for the purpose of manipulating the market and ultimately deriving windfall profits," he said. "If you have a big supply of toilet paper in your house, this is not something you have to worry about. But if you are sitting on a warehouse with surgical masks you will be hearing a knock on your door."
Barr said that no items have been designated yet and the Department of Justice will work with HHS to identify potential cases where hoarding may be impeding COVID-19 response.
Vice President Mike Pence said during the briefing that the United States has conducted 313,000 COVID-19 tests.
The briefing comes as the United States became the nation with the third-largest number of COVID-19 cases in the world. Johns Hopkins University reported at least 573 deaths and 41,000 cases as of 2 p.m.