Taiwan’s face masks not made by prison inmates: MOEA

Disposable surgical masks. (CNA file photo)

TAIPEI (CNA) — The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) has denied a foreign media report that suggested that prison labor has been engaged in the production of medical face masks to be requisitioned by Taiwan’s government.

The British Broadcasting Corporation’s (BBC) Chinese service on Friday published a video report on its website showing what it said were inmates in a Taipei prison making fabric face masks.

In the video’s introduction, the report said Taiwan’s single-day output of face masks has reached 10 million pieces, of which “a small portion are sewed by prison inmates.”

It said inmates in a Taipei prison have been “working overtime” to help increase face mask production to meet the country’s needs in its fight against the outbreak of the coronavirus disease COVID-19.

The report also said those inmates volunteered themselves for the work.

However, the report was removed from the BBC’s website late Saturday after the MOEA issued a statement saying that the story did not conform to the facts.

In the statement, the MOEA stressed that what the government requisitions from manufacturers are medical-grade face masks and not the fabric face masks as mentioned in the BBC report.

The government “did not ask prison inmates to sew face masks,” the ministry said, while urging the media to reach out to the government for verification in order to avoid inaccuracies.

Meanwhile, the MOEA expressed appreciation to manufacturing plants; the military, which provided manpower support; relevant government agencies; and private entities for their contribution to expanding daily production capacity from an initial 1.88 million pieces to 10 million at present, under the government’s centralized manufacturing and distribution system.

The ultimate target for the daily production capacity is 13 million masks, it added.

In an effort to meet domestic demand for face masks amid the COVID-19 epidemic, the government in January imposed an export ban on disposable surgical masks and began to buy those produced domestically for rationing to consumers.

To boost domestic production, the government has managed to build 60 new production lines in less than two months and is working to build 30 more, which are expected to begin full operation by early April.