Border guards have arrested a man in a wetsuit who admitted to smuggling surgical masks across a river from Ukraine into Romania, Ukraine's border guard service said on Thursday.

The Ukrainian authorities say such masks have become more popular than cigarettes to smuggle across the border into the European Union, with demand spiking due to the coronavirus epidemic, Reuters said.

Read alsoKyiv entrepreneurs aiming to profit off of coronavirus panic robbed of 100,000 medical face masks at gunpoint

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Ukraine has forbidden the export of medical masks in order to bolster domestic supplies.

The arrest follows the seizure of thousands of masks at border checkpoints and also the arrest of a group of people suspected of trying to rob surgical masks at gunpoint from a private seller in Kyiv.

Border guards spotted the 29-year-old man coming out of the water in the Tisza river. He tried to escape but was detained after the guards fired a warning shot, a statement said.

"The offender also admitted to transferring masks to neighboring Romania," the statement said.

Ukraine has recorded at least 16 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, including two deaths.