CORONAVIRUS/Price of masks expected to be less than NT$5 each: economics minister

05/27/2020 11:30 PM
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Taipei, May 27 (CNA) Economics Affairs Minister Shen Jong-chin (沈榮津) said Wednesday that he expects surgical masks to be sold at less than NT$5 each when the rationing is lifted and they become available on the open market soon, but the government will not regulate the price.

Taiwan's surgical mask production has increased from about 1.88 million per day in January, when the COVID-19 coronavirus disease began spreading beyond China, to about 20 million per day, Shen said.

Starting June 1, when masks will go on sale on the open market again, the price from the manufacturers and distributors is expected to be less than NT$5 (US$0.17) each, Shen said, noting that the sale and export restrictions are being lifted because Taiwan now has adequate mask supplies.

Since the government began requisitioning and rationing all domestically produced surgical masks at the start of February, it has requisitioned over 1.3 billion and now has an inventory of 200 million to 300 million, according to Shen.

He said that while the government will continue to requisition 8 million surgical masks per day, manufacturers will now be allowed to sell to buyers at home and abroad.

If the domestic inventory falls below 100 million masks, however, the government will need to requisition 12 million per day to ensure an adequate supply to Taiwan consumers in the event of a disease outbreak, Shen said.

Commenting on public concerns that the lifting of the government's mask rationing, open market sales and export ban might prompt retailers to jack up prices, Chen said people who wish to purchase masks at a controlled price would still be able to do so at contracted pharmacies linked to the National Health Insurance (NHI) system.

Under that price control system, however, buyers will still be limited to nine masks every two weeks, which has been the rationed number over the past few months, and will also have to present their NHI card, he said.

Sellers who hoard surgical masks and jack up prices would risk punishment under the Criminal Code and the Fair Trade Act, Shen warned.

In the manufacturing sector, however, industry representatives said it would be unreasonable to expect them to supply masks at less than NT$5 each, given the cost of raw materials, logistics and packaging.

Y.C. Cheng (鄭永柱), chairman of one such manufacturer, Motex Healthcare Corp., said the mask price may go higher than NT$5 on the open market due to higher raw material prices than those before the COVID-19 outbreak.

While mask demand is still high in overseas, his company will export 80 percent of its masks, instead of the planned 50 percent, and he estimates the exports can be sold for at least NT$10 each, Cheng said.

The ministry has since clarified that the price of under NT$5 price was a suggestion for manufacturers, not an intended government regulation.

(By Chang Ming-hsuan, Wu Hsin-yun, Tsai Peng-min and Evelyn Kao)

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