Taiwan's new mask-rationing system goes into effect today

Effective today, there will be a limit of 2 face masks per person per week

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Long line for masks in front of pharmacy in Taipei. 

Long line for masks in front of pharmacy in Taipei.  (CNA photo)

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 launched a new rationing system for masks on Thursday (Feb. 6) that is based on IDs and limits the quantity per person.

The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced on Monday (Feb. 3) that it would 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 have contracted with the NHI. In addition, consumers are limited to only buying two masks per week (seven days).

Previously, the government had tried to set a limit of three masks per person per day, but panic buying, hoarding, and profiteering continued unabated. As of Thursday, convenience stores and cosmetics retailers have stopped selling face masks, with sales shifted to NHI-contracted drug stores and pharmacies.

The price per mask has been lowered from NT$6 (US$0.19) 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.

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.


Pharmacist standing behind a stack of government-provided masks. (CNA photo)

In addition, each NHI-contracted drug store is 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.

This raised fears among foreign residents, migrant workers, and Chinese students who do not have NHI cards that they would not be able to receive the face masks. However, at a press conference on Tuesday (Feb. 4), the Director General of Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Administration (健保署) Lee Po-chang (李伯璋) said that foreigners can use their own identification information, such as passports and Alien Resident Certificates (ARC), when picking up masks at NHI-contracted pharmacies, reported UDN.

Lee said that staff at drug stores and pharmacies are being instructed to write the passport and ARC numbers of foreigners who receive masks by hand. As for the purchasing restrictions based on NHI ID card numbers, Lee said that in the case of foreign residents, migrant workers, and Chinese students, this rationing system will apply to the last digit of their ARC numbers or passports.

In the wake of a new rationing system announced by the government, wholesale retailer Kuang Nan Fashion Shop (光南大批發-連鎖店) on Tuesday (Feb. 4) announced that it will be offering 500,000 free face masks at multiple branches across Taiwan by the end of the week. The masks will be available at select Kuang Nan stores on Friday and Saturday (Feb. 7-8), with customers limited to five masks each.