Several mask manufacturers cut short their holiday and on Sunday began working to meet surging demand as fears over a fast-spreading new virus escalate, a Ministry of Economic Affairs official said yesterday.
The ministry has asked logistics service providers to return to work and facilitate mask deliveries to retailers, Executive Yuan spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka said, adding that people do not have to stockpile masks as there is enough on the market to meet demand.
Local manufacturers can produce 1.88 million masks per day, the ministry said, adding that they could increase production to 2.44 million per day, or up to 70 million per month.
Photo: Chen Kuan-pei, Taipei Times
To ensure there is enough supply amid fears that the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) could spread domestically, the Customs Administration on Friday last week banned exports of all masks made of woven materials until Feb. 23.
Asked whether the export ban would continue, the ministry official said the ministry would hold a meeting after the holiday, which ends tomorrow.
As there is no sign that the outbreak will ease any time soon, the Executive Yuan is likely to maintain the ban in the short term, the official added.
The ban has come under intense scrutiny from politicians and commentators alike.
Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) said the government should not be so rigid in regulating mask exports, as the nation has sufficient inventory to meet demand.
“All of us should know how to take better care of our health as the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak is getting worse. Like a war, we should not underestimate the effects of the disease and should be prepared to defend against it. This should be our attitude and our social responsibility,” he said.
“The nation has sufficient inventory [of masks] to meet the demand and [the government] should take this into consideration. The policy does not have to be so rigid,” he said.
Political commentator Joyce Huang (黃智賢) also criticized the ban, saying ministry data showed that local manufacturers produce about 1.88 million masks per day and can increase production to 2.44 million, while the nation needs only 1.3 million masks per day.
On average, the demand for masks increased to about 1.54 million daily during the SARS outbreak in 2003, she said.
The Democratic Progressive Party government should not impose such an unconscionable ban, “no matter how much it hates China,” Huang said.
While some critics said the ban is inhumane, sports commentator Max Shih (石明謹), who is also a police officer, said that it is the critics who are inhumane for making comments without realizing that the nation is also dealing with a tight supply.
“Personally, I would not stop people doing good deeds to others. If Huang and other critics are willing to personally go to Wuhan and distribute masks to people, I am happy to raise funds and buy 10,000 masks for them,” Shih said.
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