Wed, May 14, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Executive Yuan set to buy 30 million masks

ENEMY WITHIN The government promised to seek out and punish those who are undermining disease-control efforts by hoarding masks or gouging their customers

By Ko Shu-ling  /  STAFF REPORTER

Facing an insufficient supply of masks, the Executive Yuan yesterday decided to purchase 30 million masks from around the world and dispatch charter flights to bring them home if necessary.

The government also pledged to investigate and mete out punishments to those exploiting the SARS epidemic by gouging customers or hoarding masks.

"With the procurement of the masks, we hope to ease the insufficient supply," said Premier Yu Shyi-kun. "The justice ministry and Fair Trade Commission will also step up efforts to investigate such irregularities such as hoarding or overcharging for the masks."

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.

The Fair Trade Commission yesterday said that if the retail price of a N95 mask costs more than NT$100, it's too much. The price of a regular mask should be no more than NT$18. The wholesale price of a N95 mask is NT$29 and that of a regular mask is NT$5.

Yu added that local governments can make use of their annual budget to cover SARS-related expenses before the legislature passes the NT$50 billion budget earmarked to subsidize medical expenses and mitigate the economic impact of industries affected by the outbreak.

"If it's still not enough, they have their individual secondary emergency fund and disaster relief fund at their disposal," Yu said.

Yu made the remark yesterday afternoon after he inspected the Center for Disease Control, where the Cabinet's SARS command center is situated.

According to Minister of Economic Affairs Lin Yi-fu (林義夫), the daily demand for the N95 masks at medical institutions is 100,000 pieces and that of the regular masks -- including medical and active-carbon ones -- stands at 600,000.

"While the demand for the N95 masks is estimated at 100,000 pieces a day, or about 3 million pieces a month, we hope to see local manufacturers provide 60,000 pieces daily and 80,000 May 20, with the remainder imported from other countries," Lin said.

The demand for regular masks is estimated at 600,000 pieces a day, or about 28 million pieces a month, the government plans to bring in 30 million more from abroad, while local manufactures are projected to provide 350,000 pieces a day.

The defense ministry's logistics administration is expected to churn out 80,000 pieces of regular masks daily starting next Tuesday. The economic ministry will also earmark NT$10 million to contract out manufactures to enter the market.

According to Yang Ching-chuan (楊漢泉), deputy director-general of the health department, the government yesterday mailed a total of 560,000 N95 masks to medical institutions and county and city health departments nationwide.

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