Taipei, Jan. 22 (CNA) Taiwan's Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) said Wednesday that domestic production of surgical face masks can be increased to meet demand, amid worry over a new coronavirus that is spreading from China.
The government will monitor the market for any signs of stockpiling or price gouging by face mask retailers, Economics Minister Shen Jong-chin (沈榮津) said at a news conference on the last day before the start of the Lunar New Year holiday.
He said Taiwan's current daily production capacity of 1.88 million face masks could be boosted to 2.44 million to meet an increase in demand.
In addition, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has a reserve of 45 million surgical face masks that could be made available to the public if necessary, Shen said.
In 2002 and early 2003, when an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) occurred in Taiwan, the face mask manufacturing industry increased its capacity by 2 million daily units per day within 15 days, he said.
The MOEA's Department of Commerce is monitoring surgical mask sales volume and price levels, both online and in brick and mortar stores, and will refer any suspected cases of product stockpiling or price gouging to the Fair Trade Commission for investigation, according to Shen.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said it will release a total of 2 million surgical masks onto the market Wednesday and Thursday, and another 1 million per week from Jan. 30 to March 20, depending on demand.
The issue of face mask supply arose after the CDC's epidemic response command center on Tuesday confirmed Taiwan's first infection of the pneumonia-like virus in a 55-year-old woman returning from Wuhan, China, where the virus is believed to have originated.
As of Wednesday, 440 cases and nine deaths had been reported in China and nine cases in other counties around the world.