Pre-ordering of masks at convenience stores to begin soon

CNA file photo

TAIPEI (CNA) — People in Taiwan will be soon have the option of pre-ordering their fortnightly quota of surgical face masks at the four major convenience store chains in the country, a Cabinet official said Sunday.

Starting April 22, buyers will be able to pre-order their ration of nine masks every two weeks at Family Mart, 7-Eleven, OK Mart, and Hi-Life convenience stores, once they present their National Health Insurance (NHI) cards, the official said.

Buyers will have the option to also choose PX Mart and Simple Mart for delivery of the orders, but those two supermarket chains cannot accommodate orders since they do not have the necessary equipment to read the NHI cards, the official said.

The methods of the payment for the pre-ordering system have not yet been determined, according to the official.

Pre-ordering at convenience stores is expected to ease the congestion at NHI-affiliated pharmacies, where people usually have to wait in long lines to buy their ration of masks.

The Cabinet official said 240 of the 6,000-plus designated pharmacies have asked to withdraw from the program because they do not have enough staff to handle the daily sales.

Since the mask rationing program started Jan. 31, the quota for each person has been increased from two to three per week and then to nine per fortnight, with the sales platforms expanding from pharmacies to a government website and mobile app.

In Taipei City, three vending machines have been installed at the Xinyi District Health Center near Taipei 101 and will be ready to dispense masks from Monday at 8:30 a.m., city officials.

However, payment methods remain an issue for some buyers, as cash is accepted only at the pharmacies, where the long lines are a deterrent for many people.