Young foreign children without NHI, ARC cards to get face masks

People are waiting in line to obtain face masks in downtown Taipei in this undated photo. (CNA)
People are waiting in line to obtain face masks in downtown Taipei in this undated photo. (CNA)

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan’s government announced Friday it will soon provide face masks to the young children of foreign diplomats, who are currently unable to buy masks in Taiwan under the rationing system because they do not have the required documents to do so.

The child-size medical face masks will be dispatched to embassies and foreign representative offices in Taiwan as soon as possible, in preparation for the opening of schools next week, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA).

Elementary, junior high and senior high schools are set to open next week, after the winter vacation was extended for two weeks as part of the government’s effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

Children of foreign diplomats in Taiwan who are under 12 years old will receive four medical face masks every seven days, the same amount local parents are allowed to purchase per week for their children at accredited drug stores, MOFA spokeswoman Joanne Ou (歐江安) said in a press statement.

MOFA had been providing two adult-size face masks per week to foreign diplomats and their family members in Taiwan because they are excluded from the rationing system introduced on Feb. 6, in which face masks can only be sold to national health insurance (NHI) card or Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) holders.

Foreign service officials and their family members do not have either of the two cards.

The problem came to light on Thursday when Chen Liang (梁晨), wife of Slovak representative to Taiwan Martin Podstavek, posted on her Facebook page that she was stopped from purchasing child-size face masks in a drug store because she only had a Diplomatic ID Card.

Liang said the drug store clerk yelled and threatened to call the police after she tried to explain her situation. The incident was widely reported by Taiwanese media and Liang then made the post a private one.

Instead, she posted a new message on Facebook Friday, saying that the incident will not change her good impression of Taiwan and its people, and expressing her gratitude to all those who comforted her and offered to help.

She also shared her husband’s open letter originally posted on the Facebook page of the Slovak Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, which commended Taiwan’s success in controlling the spread of the virus.

“Taiwan has been very successful in handling the threat of the coronavirus compared with other countries in East Asia, which is facing the spread of the disease,” Podstavek said in the letter.

Podstavek added that Taiwan should have a place in the World Health Organization (WHO) expert sessions.

“It is not possible for the 23 million people in Taiwan to receive complete and timely vital information regarding life. Whatever the causes of this condition, it is not justifiable,” the letter said.