Coronavirus: Brothers donate 17,700 bottles of hand sanitiser after failing to sell for profit

Matt and Noah Colvin give away medical supplies after online retailer Amazon stopped their sales for price gouging

epa08289519 A shopper looking for hand sanitizer looks through boxes at a Target in Alexandria, Virginia, USA, 12 March 2020. The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and the travel ban announced by US President Trump on 11 March have sparked shoppers to clean the shelves of household necessity items.  EPA/SHAWN THEW
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Thousands of bottles of hand sanitiser and packs of antibacterial wipes and medical masks have been donated after a failed attempt by two brothers to resell them for profit during the US coronavirus outbreak.

Boxes were taken from a storage unit and the home of Matt Colvin of Hixson, Tennessee,on Sunday, local media reported.

The items, including 17,700 bottles of hand sanitiser, were donated to a local church and some supplies will head to Kentucky.

Mr Colvin and his brother, Noah, had cleared store shelves of the items before online retailer Amazon stopped their sales and the state attorney general sent a cease-and-desist letter.

The purchases were first featured in a story in the New York Times in which the brothers drove to stores scooping up supplies around Chattanooga on March 1 - the day after the first US coronavirus death was announced.

Noah Colvin then drove about 2,100 kilometers over three days across Tennessee and Kentucky, filling a rented truck while his brother stayed home preparing for more supplies he had ordered.

Matt Colvin said he posted 300 bottles of hand sanitiser for sale on Amazon between $8 and $70 each and immediately sold them all.

“It was crazy money,” he told the newspaper.

The next day, Amazon pulled Matt Colvin's items along with thousands of other similar listings, citing price gouging. Some of the sellers behind the listings were suspended, while EBay soon banned U.S. sales of sanitizers and masks.

ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - MARCH 13: Shelves normally stocked with hand wipes, hand sanitizer and toilet paper sit empty at a Target store as people stockpile supplies due to the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) March 13, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia. The U.S. government is racing to make more coronavirus test kits available as schools close around the country, sporting events are canceled, and businesses encourage workers to telecommute where possible.   Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP
Shelves normally stocked with hand wipes, hand sanitizer and toilet paper sit empty at a Target store in Arlington, Virginia. AFP

Matt Colvin had turned Amazon sales into a six-figure career starting in 2015, advertising Nike shoes and pet toys and by following popular trends.

In early February, when the coronavirus was spreading in China, the former Air Force technical sergeant bought 2,000 “pandemic packs” from a local liquidation firm that were left over from a defunct company. He bought them at $3.50 per pack and resold them at a substantial profit.

When public demand for sanitisers and wipes started to skyrocket, Matt and Noah Colvin went to work buying them up.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee declared a state of emergency on Thursday. Part of that included the triggering of an anti-price gouging law.

CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS - MARCH 12: Purell hand sanitizer inside the Information Center on the campus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology on March 12, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Students have been asked to move out of their dorms by March 17 due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). risk. All classes will be moved online for the rest of the spring semester.   Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/AFP
A Purell hand sanitiser station inside the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. AFP

“We will not tolerate price gouging in this time of exceptional need, and we will take aggressive action to stop it,” Herbert H Slatery III, the Tennessee attorney general, said in a statement Saturday night.

The case involving the Colvins remains under investigation.

The Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron said that “this is a time where we have to focus on helping our neighbours, not profiting from them”.