Rumors over face mask shortage spark run on toilet paper in Taiwan

Panic buying of toilet paper starts over rumors that raw supplies are being exhausted to make face masks

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(CNA photo)

Update 2020-02-10 3:20 p.m.

The Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB) said during a press conference Monday (Feb. 10) that three women responsible for the toilet paper supplies rumor have been arrested and will be fined NT$30,000 (US$1,000) each. It added that the women, who have been confirmed to be marketing workers for companies in southern Taiwan, had been spreading the rumor on social media as a strategy to boost market sales, reported CNA.

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — In response to rumors that toilet paper supplies were running low because they are being used to make face masks, the government on Friday (Feb. 7) said the materials used in the two products are different and that supplies of toilet paper are abundant.

Due to fears over the outbreak of the Wuhan virus in Taiwan, the past few weeks have seen a mad run on face masks, with supplies heavily depleted and rationing implemented. Rumors started to spread on social media last week that the panic buying of face masks had exhausted the raw materials for toilet paper, diapers, and sanitary wipes as well, threatening to repeat the frenzy of the Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2018.

However, the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) on its Facebook page on Friday (Feb. 7) said that the materials used to produce surgical face masks are different from those used in the manufacture of toilet paper. It explained that masks are made from non-woven fabric, while more than 70 percent of toilet paper is made from staple fiber pulp.

As to rumors that imported toilet paper was becoming scarce due to the Wuhan virus outbreak in China, the MOEA said that Taiwan does not import toilet paper or its raw materials from China. The MOEA said that most of the pulp to make toilet paper comes from Chile and Brazil and that international pulp supplies have increased recently, while prices have gone down.

With a monthly production of 25,000 tons, the supply is plentiful, said the MOEA. At present, the annual usage of pulp in Taiwan is 160,000 tons, which can also be increased in line with market demands.

As for diapers and sanitary wipes, the MOEA said that unlike face masks, the main materials used in these are nonwoven polypropylene. It added that the supply of this material is in excess of demand and only used in the inner layer of masks.

The MOEA also said that it had contacted the major domestic suppliers of sanitary napkins and diapers, who assured it that production is normal and that there are enough supplies to meet the demand. The ministry then exhorted the public to inform their friends on social media that there is no shortage of toilet paper, diapers, or sanitary napkins.