Thu, May 08, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Ministry denies impounding masks

DAMAGE CONTROL Customs authorities say that an importer gave false information about a consignment of masks and that's why they have been held back

By Chiu Yu-tzu  /  STAFF REPORTER

KMT legislator Lu Hsiu-yen holds a surgical mask during a press conference yesterday in which she called on the government to crack down on people hoarding such masks.

PHOTO: SEAN CHAO, TAIPEI TIMES

As demand increases for surgical masks, the Ministry of Finance yesterday denied accusations that customs authorities had impounded a consignment of imported masks for official use.

The ministry's Taipei Customs Bureau yesterday displayed 6,120 imported N95 healthcare particulate respirators, which had been impounded because of questions about their documentation.

Customs officials said that the importer had made an false declaration, claiming to be importing only 3,300 masks and saying the unit price was NT$1 instead of the original NT$100.

Officials said the importer also claimed that the masks were made in Hong Kong, when in fact they were made in the US.

According to the officials, the importer would have to pay NT$500,000 before the confiscated goods can be released.

They denied rumors that customs authorities had been deliberately impounding imported masks for use by the government.

"We have never impounded any imported masks for official use," said Chiou Jeng-wang (邱振旺), the bureau's deputy director.

Officials said that they had received no order from the Cabinet to impound either masks or devices that measured a person's temperature.

Meanwhile, legislators yesterday urged the Department of Health to issue guidelines on the use of face masks and recommend the public use regular masks rather than N95 ones, which are required by medical professionals.

"Only by offering medical professionals at the front line sufficient masks can SARS could be blocked inside hospitals," PFP Legislator Kao Ming-chien (高明見) said.

Some legislators demanded a comprehensive investigation into cases of hoarding of masks.

KMT legislative leader Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) said that investigators should look into the rumors that some imported masks have been piling up at the Legislative Yuan.

KMT Legislator Lu Shiow-yen (盧秀燕) said that the government should establish a task force focusing on the distribution of the masks.

"In addition, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should spare no effort to oversee the purchase of masks," Lu said.

DOH officials reiterated yesterday that wearing professional N95 masks was unnecessary for those not engaged in health care.

Officials of the Ministry of Economic Affairs said yesterday that its Industrial Development Bureau (IDB) had coordinated trade companies on importing masks.

According to the IDB Director-General Chen Chao-yi (陳昭義), between Tuesday and Saturday 63,000 N95 masks and 195,000 flat masks were being made available to the DOH, which would be distributing them to hospitals and clinics.

According to Chen, since the outbreak of SARS began, Taiwan has been producing 83,000 N95 masks a day and importing 40,000. As for flat masks, Chen said, Taiwan produces 350,000 a day and imports 200,000.

In addition, Chen said, 30,000 ear temperature measurement devices are produced every day in Taiwan.

"We are asking for NT$10 million to help certain companies raise their production of goods we need," Chen said yesterday at the Legislative Yuan.

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