Wed, May 21, 2003 - Page 2 News List

Military doesn't have manpower for SARS battle

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

The military has just enough medical personnel for five SARS hospitals and does not have the manpower to open more, the Ministry of National Defense said yesterday.

The Executive Yuan had planned to ask the military to open as many as 17 SARS hospitals across the country.

But at a press conference yesterday, ministry spokesman Major General Huang Sui-sheng (黃穗生) said that five SARS hospitals are, for the time being, the absolute limit for the miltary.

These five hospitals, located in different parts of the country, are to close outpatient services and focus on the treatment of SARS patients.

Huang did not go into details about the issue, saying he had already expressed ministry's difficulty in meeting every demand from the Executive Yuan in the battle against SARS.

Huang did announced that, starting today, the military will mass-produce medical masks in order relieve the shortage in the country.

The masks are to be produced by the Tainan-based 304th manufacturing unit of the Combined Logistics Command, which is usually responsible for making shoes and other personal items for the armed services.

The unit's daily production target is set at 80,000 pieces. The production cost for each piece will be NT$3.

A spokesman for the Combined Logistics Command said the 304th manufacturing unit is to use only part of its workforce for the production of face masks, since the supply of such masks is returning to normal after the government began a crack down on businesses that were hoarding the masks with the intention of profiteering.

"If all the workforce of the unit were mobilized, the daily production would be hard to estimate. We are currently saving part of the unit's workforce to keep regular businesses going," the spokesman said.

"The equipment for the production of masks is provided by private companies. We are not spending any extra money for the production," he said.

Even as the 304th manufacturing unit starts producing face masks today, another unit of the Combined Logistics Command is gearing up for the production of protective clothes for medical staff dealing with SARS patients.

The Kaohsiung-based 302nd manufacturing unit is set to start producing protective clothes on Sunday at a rate of 8,000 suits per day. The production cost for each suit is NT$100.

The 302nd is to become the first production component of the Combined Logistics Command to be privatized.

The 304th unit is to be privatized after the 302nd. That the two units are to start producing the face masks and protective clothing with technical assistance from the private sector represents concrete steps toward privatization, the ministry said.

The privatization of manufacturing units is expected to generate billions of NT dollars in revenue for the Combined Logistics Command. The income might help the command balance its bank book, as it is currently burdened with huge personnel costs.

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