Knife-wielding men who stole hundreds of toilet rolls during panic-buying shortages in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic in Hong Kong were jailed for more than three years on Thursday.

The three were each sentenced to 40 months in prison over the armed robbery in February last year in which some 600 toilet rolls were taken, Ming Pao newspaper reported.

toilet paper robbery
Police inspect the toilet rolls stolen on February 17, 2020.

Toilet rolls became hot property in densely packed Hong Kong when the coronavirus first spread from central China and hit the finance hub.

Panic-buying set in with supermarket shelves cleared of many household essentials as well as staple foods.

Supermarkets were unable to restock quickly enough, leading to sometimes lengthy queues across the city and packets of toilet rolls being snapped up within minutes of opening.

Photos posted online showed some people proudly stuffing their cramped city apartments with packets of hoarded toilet rolls.

supermarket panic buying
Empty shelves in a supermarket in Hong Kong in early February last year. Photo: Christopher Cheng/United Social Press

During the robbery, the three men admitted to using a knife to threaten a delivery driver outside a major supermarket chain in the working-class district of Mong Kok.

They made off with 50 packets of toilet paper worth around HK$1,700 ($220) but were soon tracked down by police.

Ming Pao reported that the gang of three admitted to the robbery, apologised to the delivery driver and paid for the toilet rolls they made off with.

The paper quoted the trial judge as saying the crime was pre-meditated and deserved a custodial sentence.

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