Taiwan introduces new system to prevent mask stockpile

No longer sold at convenience stores, maximum two pieces per week per person

Health and Welfare Minister (衛福部) Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) speaks at a press conference on Feb. 3, 2020. (CNA)
Health and Welfare Minister (衛福部) Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) speaks at a press conference on Feb. 3, 2020. (CNA)

TAIPEI (The China Post/ANN) — Taiwan residents will only be allowed to buy two face masks per week at designated pharmacies starting on Thursday (Feb. 6), Health and Welfare Minister (衛福部) Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) announced late Monday.

The flat fee per piece will drop by NT$1 (US$0.033) from NT$6 (US$0.2) to NT$5 (US$0.16), and locals will need to show their health insurance card to make a purchase, the minister added.

The policy came as calls for tighter control on mask distribution mounted in the past few days after government efforts to ensure universal access to masks proved unsuccessful.

People are still queueing outside convenience stores around the time they anticipate masks delivery.

Sold out signs are put up less than one hour after sales begin and complaints about not getting a hold on protective gear, disinfectants continue to sprout on social media.

Starting on Thursday, Taiwan residents will need to bring their national health insurance cards to the approximately 6,000 National Health Insurance (NHI) contracted pharmacies nationwide. The government will not longer allocate masks to convenience stores.

Locals are allowed to purchase for maximum one friend or family as long as they bring their national health insurance cards along with their own.

In order to avoid long queues, citizens whose ID number ending in odd numbers are eligible to buy masks on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, while the even numbers may go on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Sundays are open to all.

The state-run Chunghwa Post (中華郵政) will take over logistics, Chen said, to ensure that everybody will be able to start buying masks on Thursday morning.

Team of engineers led by Digital Minister Audrey Tang (唐鳳) will develop an online tracing system for the public to search which pharmacies have remaining stock.

For rural districts without NHI contracted pharmacies, masks will be sold at local health bureaus, authorities said.

*This article was amended on 4 February 2020 to make clear that foreigners residing in Taiwan will be eligible to purchase masks as long as they have a National Health Insurance Card.