The public anxiety fueled by the COVID-19 outbreak has sent shoppers in search of masks across different retail channels as soon as they are restocked.
The main reason for the panic buying is the worry of having no mask to wear when community transmission of the disease breaks out, prompting people to stockpile masks in advance. As long as this mindset continues unrectified, the mask shortage will never be resolved.
People should be using their masks within a given period of time, say within a week or a month after purchase, and making another purchase only when needed. This principle would allow masks to be available for purchase at any time and, by helping others in need, protect public health across the nation.
The shortage in the market is not because all the masks produced thus far have been used: It is due to people stockpiling them.
Even after the government implemented a real-name purchasing system on Thursday last week, many buyers are still buying masks to have as spares.
If this situation is allowed to continue, masks would always run out of stock no matter how many more supplies are manufactured.
To solve the issue and end the stockpiling, the government should require mask manufacturers to print numerals on the inner sleeve of the mask. For instance, masks produced in February should be printed with the number “2,” and those produced in March should bear the number “3.”
One month later, the government should penalize people wearing unnumbered masks, suggesting that they have stockpiled masks manufactured more than a month ago.
If the government issues such a directive, people who have been stockpiling masks would give away or use up their spare masks in no time rather than going through the trouble of tearing up masks and printing falsified numbers.
Following this method, the mask shortage would probably be resolved within a week.
The government needs to come up with more creative measures to administer in troubled times and to guide the public in a bid to safeguard health at this crucial moment.
Phillipe Hsu is a public health center physician.
Translated by Chang Ho-ming
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