Thu, May 15, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Masks held at Customs warehouse

SHORTAGEA procedural delay at CKS airport means that millions of masks are sitting in storage while the nation panics about the critcal shortage of supplies

By Fiona Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER WITH CNA

DPP Legislator Tang Bi-a points to a chart yesterday as she warned against a flaw in the central government's delivery of masks and medical supplies while asking the government to crack down on profiteering by unscrupulous businesses taking advantage of the SARS epidemic.

PHOTO: CNA

A TSU legislator revealed yesterday that up to 10 million imported medical masks were held up at customs and that the procedural procrastination could have led to the shortage of the masks required by medical staff who are on the front lines in the battle against SARS.

"A responsibility review for the hoarding is necessary since it is ironic that the country is confronting the problem of insufficient supply while millions of the imported masks were piled up in the customs warehouses," argued TSU legislative convener Chien Lin Whei-jun (錢林慧君).

Chien Lin, who inspected several air cargo terminals at the CKS International Airport on Tuesday, advised the government to requisition the stock at the airport warehouse instead of rushing into overseas purchases of still more masks.

The TSU convener also said that the official prices announced by the Executive Yuan for the surgical masks and the N95 particulate respirators were not right.

According to Chien Lin, a surgical mask should cost between NT$1.4 and NT$2.0 while a N95 respirator should be NT$25. "The official price of NT$18 for one surgical mask and NT$100 for each N95 is legitimizing the improper price-hiking," she complained.

While the TSU did its investigation into the delay of masks at the airport terminal, a DPP lawmaker warned against a flaw in the central government's delivery of masks.

Tainan Legislator Tang Bi-a (唐碧娥) told a news conference that the numbers of the distributed masks received by several hospitals in the Tainan County did not agree with to the reported numbers shown on the shipping list.

This led hospital staff to believe that someone took a few of the masks during the delivery, Tang said.

Tang urged the government to safeguard the delivery process and make sure that the masks could be distributed to hospital personnel.

While the issue of the mask supply still topped the list of lawmakers' concerns, members of the DPP legislative caucus yesterday promised that the supply of N95 respirators would meet the daily needs of medical staff around the country.

"The respirator supply meets the daily demand of 100,000 requested by the hospital staff, since the estimated maximum number of the N95 masks offered by the Department of Health (DOH) is 150,000 a day," DPP legislative whip Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁), said.

"Hoarding masks is unnecessary," Chen said.

The DPP caucus said that the Bureau of Health Promotion had been delivering a sufficient number of masks to hospitals and health administrations.

"As of Tuesday, the health department had already delivered a total of 456,000 masks and 38,940 sets of protective clothing requested by the country's hospitals -- including 35,000 N95 masks for the National Taiwan University Hospital -- ? and public health offices," claimed DPP Legislator Lai Ching-te (賴清德).

Displaying the receipts confirming that the Taipei City Government's health bureau received its allotment of 4,000 N95 respirators from the health department, Lai urged opposition KMT lawmakers to "stop making false accusations about the government's effort to help the city's battle with SARS."

The KMT caucus nevertheless continued to question to the efficiency of the administration's aid distribution yesterday. KMT legislative caucus Secretary-General Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻) insisted that the allocated masks did not meet the demand.

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