TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — In an effort to stem the tide of panic buying, hoarding, and profiteering over face masks amid the Wuhan virus outbreak, the Taiwan government will launch a new rationing system for masks on Thursday (Feb. 6) that will be based on IDs and severely limit the quantity per person.
The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced on Monday that it will implement a new rationing system for face masks that requires Taiwan residents to present their National Health Insurance (NHI) cards when purchasing masks at the over 6,000 drugstores and pharmacies which contract with the NHI, reported Liberty Times. In addition, consumers will be limited to only buying two masks per week (7 days).
Previously, the government had tried to set a ration of three masks per person per day, but panic buying, hoarding, and profiteering continued unabated. When the new system goes into effect on Thursday, convenience stores and cosmetics retailers will stop selling face masks, with sales shifting to NHI-contracted drug stores and pharmacies.
Long line for masks outside convenience store. (CNA photo)
The price per mask has been lowered from NT$6 to NT$5. In the case of those purchasing for multiple family members or friends, each person can only make purchases with one additional NHI card at a time.
In addition, each NHI-contracted drug store will be allotted 200 adult masks and 50 children's masks per day. In order to diminish the crowds of people swarming around stores, those whose NHI cards end with odd numbers (1, 3, 5, 7, 9) will be restricted to purchasing on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, while those whose cards end with even numbers (0, 2, 4, 6, 8) will be limited to buying masks on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with both allowed to make purchases on Sundays, reported CNA.
Officials pointed out that after the implementation of the real-name system, the sales of masks will be closely monitored. If sales start to subside, restrictions on purchases could be adjusted at any time, they said .
Sign says store is out of masks and tells customers not to line up in the morning. (CNA photo)
Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) in a video on Monday (Feb. 3) emphasized that the government is fully committed to the prevention and control of the Wuhan coronavirus in Taiwan and called on the public to pay attention to proper hygiene and cooperate with government epidemic prevention measures. He then appealed for the public to leave the face masks to those most in need.
Huang Li-min (黃立民), a pediatrician at National Taiwan University Hospital, said that the problem of masks is very complex, not a purely medical problem, but also a sociological and political one, reported Liberty Times. He pointed out that many people do not really need masks, but they are reassured when they have them.
He said that as a result, many people hoard masks. The more they buy, the more reassured they will feel, but they do not necessarily end up using them.
Huge line for masks outside a store in Changhua City. (CNA)
Huang said that the limit of two per week will really force people to reassess when they need to wear face masks. He said that this is an extraordinary period right now and that there are simply not enough masks to go around if everyone wants to constantly wear them everywhere.