Taiwan’s government requisitions domestic N95 mask capacity

CNA file photo

TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan’s government has decided to requisition 3 million N95 masks per month – the country’s total monthly output – to ensure a stable supply for medical workers amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, a Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) official said Wednesday.

On average, medical workers in Taiwan use 30,000 to 40,000 N95 masks a day, and there are no worries at present about a shortage of supply, the MOEA official, who declined to be named, told CNA.

Nonetheless, the government is still requisitioning the masks — 1.5 million every two weeks — based on advice from Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to ensure the safety of medical personnel, the official said.

The official did not offer any further explanation of why the CDC felt it necessary to requestion Taiwan’s total domestic N95 mask capacity given that domestic demand has fallen far short of that.

The four companies in Taiwan capable of producing N95 masks have a combined capacity of 100,000 to 105,000 per day, the official said.

That capacity will go up by about 20,000 N95 masks a day when one of the four producers adds new production lines by the end of April, according to the official.

The government first requisitioned N95 masks, which can filter out at least 95 percent of airborne particles and are mainly used by medical workers on the front lines, on Feb. 6, according to a local mask supplier, and planned to requisition 2.1 million of them from Feb. 17 to March 17.

The N95 masks are much more time-consuming to make than the regular medical-grade face masks that are widely used by most workers and residents to combat the spread of the virus.

Economic Affairs Minister Shen Jong-chin (沈榮津) told reporters on Monday that N95 masks require four times the amount of melt-blown non-woven fabric that are needed for a standard medical-grade mask, of which Taiwan now produces 15 million a day.

Though enough of the raw material exists to produce both types of masks in their current quantities, Shen said the ministry would adjust the output of the masks in the future based on the progression of the epidemic should the demand for N95 masks or regular surgical masks rise sharply.