Thu, May 15, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Premier vows to take on mask fraud

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Facing a public outcry for masks, Premier Yu Shyi-kun yesterday vowed to punish traders who hoard masks and gouge customers.

"If a N95 mask costs more than NT$100, it's too much. The price of a surgical mask should be no more than NT$18," Yu said.

"Any mask vendor caught charging more than the established price will be subject to punishment." According to the Fair Trade Law (公平交易法), those hoarding or overcharging for masks could face a fine of between NT$500,000 and NT$25 million.

Violators could also be subject to a jail sentence of up to five years, according to the Criminal Code.

To resolve the mask shortage problem, the Executive Yuan yesterday decided to release 10 million face masks awaiting clearance at customs offices and ban the exportation of locally produced masks.

"Although over 30 million face masks cleared customs between May 7 and Tuesday, the public is still complaining about how difficult it is to get one," Yu said. "With the implementation of the new measure, I hope the situation will be alleviated, at least for 10 to 15 days."

Yu also vowed to step up efforts to investigate whether traders are hoarding or overcharging for their products. The government will also look into whether there is anything wrong with the distribution network.

Yu made the remarks yesterday morning during a press conference held after a meeting of the Cabinet's ad hoc SARS prevention committee.

Yu said that 10 million masks are awaiting clearance at customs.

"We'll seize and collect them if the trader importing more than 10,000 masks fails to claim them within 48 hours after being notified," Yu said. "They'll then be made available to the public at convenience stores and stated-owned gas stations."

"We'll subsidize the losses of the importer in accordance with related regulations," Yu said.

Starting yesterday, the government placed a temporary ban on the export of locally produced masks.

The committee also made public the acceptable retail prices of the masks yesterday, including the N95 healthcare masks and surgical masks.

According to Yu, the daily demand for the N95 healthcare masks at medical institutions is 100,000 pieces and that of the regular masks -- including medical and active-carbon ones -- stands at 600,000.

The Department of Health (DOH)on Monday mailed a total of 580,000 N95 masks to medical institutions and county and city health bureaus nationwide.

The DOH also distributed 5,800 N95 masks and 119,500 surgical masks yesterday which had been donated by the public to local health offices.

The government hopes to see manufacturers provide 60,000 masks a day and 80,000 starting Tuesday.

The remaining 40,000 will be imported from 56 mask suppliers worldwide. The government will also dispatch charter flights to bring them here if necessary.

The demand for regular masks is estimated at 600,000 pieces a day. While local manufactures are projected to provide 350,000 pieces a day, the government plans to bring in 30 million more from abroad.

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