Taipei, Feb. 16 (CNA) Taiwan's government on Saturday announced several updates regarding the sale, production and distribution of surgical masks in the country, including an increase in outlets where masks can be purchased.
Beginning Sunday, people can buy masks at 303 public health centers across Taiwan under the same rationing system that has been in place since Feb. 6, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced at a press conference.
Each new location will have 200 adult surgical masks and 50 children's masks daily, the CECC said, which means an increase of over 75,000 masks for sale per day.
Mask sales at these locations will follow the same set of rules as those for masks sold at the 6,000 National Health Insurance (NHI)-contracted drugstores and pharmacies, the CECC said.
Under the system, Taiwanese and foreign nationals are allowed to buy two masks every seven days, with sales staggered based on the last digit of the ID number on their NHI card, Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) or entry permit.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, masks are sold to people whose ID numbers end with an odd number, while Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays are for those with even last numbers on their ID.
On Sundays, anyone can buy masks, which cost NT$5 (US$0.16) each.
However, the CECC said as Taipei City's district health centers differ from the public health centers in other cities and counties, they will not sell masks.
Masks will be sold at public health centers in Chiayi City but not for one more week, and Yunlin County has opted out of the program.
Taiwan's government has requisitioned all domestically produced masks since Jan. 31, in an effort to ensure a steady domestic supply amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
To date, there have been one death, 20 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Taiwan, while more than 69,000 cases and 1,660 deaths have been reported worldwide, mostly in China, where the disease originated.
Taiwan targets 5.1 million masks daily in a week, 10 million in March
Also on Saturday, the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) said it has received nine of the 60 new facial mask production units it purchased to increase output.
As Taiwan currently produces 4.2 million masks a day, the nine new units, each capable of producing 100,000 masks daily, could help boost Taiwan's daily mask output to 5.1 million once they are installed and operational next week, the MOEA said.
A second batch of 15 units is expected to arrive on Feb. 20, with the remaining 36 arriving by early March, according to the MOEA.
When all 60 new units are in place, Taiwan will be able to produce up to 10 million masks a day, the MOEA said, adding that the units cost NT$200 million (US$6.61 million) in total.
6.45 million 'backup' masks to be sent to schools
Education Minister Pan Wen-chung (潘文忠) said Saturday that the ministry has begun distributing 6.45 million surgical masks, 25,000 forehead thermometers and 84,000 liters of alcohol-based sanitizers to schools across Taiwan.
These include schools from kindergarten to university level, cram schools and after school care centers, Pan said.
However, he stressed that the masks are for "backup" purposes, and should only be used in urgent situations.
Healthy students and teachers do not need to wear masks, Pan said.
Huang Wen-ling (黃雯玲), head of the Ministry of Education's Department of Planning, reiterated Pan's point at a press conference later Saturday.
The masks are not intended to be distributed to each individual student, and should only be used in accordance with CECC guidelines, Huang said.
According to the CECC, people in Taiwan only have to wear masks when seeing or accompanying others to the doctor's, or when they have respiratory issues. Those with chronic diseases are advised to wear masks when they go outside.
Drivers entitled to one mask per day: Premier
Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said Saturday on his Facebook page that those who drive for a living across Taiwan are now entitled to purchase one mask per day, effective immediately.
The policy includes bus drivers, taxi drivers, delivery drivers, and Uber drivers, Su said, who can ask their company, union, and local vehicles office for further details.