TAIPEI (CNA) — Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Thursday ordered the Taiwanese face mask manufacturer Carry Mask to halt operations after discovering that it had imported over 3 million non-medical grade masks from China in August and sold them as government-rationed face masks.
The discovery of fraud at Carry Mask is particularly sensitive in that it was a member of the “National Face Mask Team” of private sector manufacturers requisitioned by the government to produce face mask machines and masks as COVID-19 began to spread from China earlier this year.
At a press conference on Thursday, the FDA said the incident came to light after a pharmacist in New Taipei City’s Sanchong District discovered late Wednesday that a mask shipment from the company contained a package labeled “Made in Anhui” in Simplified Chinese characters.
The pharmacist, who has not been named, reported the finding to the New Taipei City Pharmacists Association, which then notified the FDA, said Chih Lan-hui (遲蘭慧), director of the agency’s Division of Quality Compliance and Management.
After receiving the tip, the FDA, Ministry of Justice and New Taipei City Department of Health sent teams to conduct an overnight audit of the company’s factory in New Taipei’s Bali District.
According to Chih, the investigation revealed that the company had imported some 3.37 million non-medical grade surgical face masks from China during the month of August, then relabeled and repackaged them for use in the government’s surgical face mask ration program.
Evidence found at the factory included customs declarations, quantities of the Chinese masks labeled as non-medical grade and for one-time use, and packages of the same masks on which the Carry Mask logo had already been embossed, she said.
Chih said the FDA had ordered the company to immediately halt all production and shipments under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act, and was in the process of determining the exact pharmacies and clinics the company had supplied the masks to.
Based on preliminary findings, the main recipients appear to have been pharmacies and shops in New Taipei’s Sanchong, Xinzhuang, Luzhou, Wugu, Linkou, Taishan, Bali, Tamsui, Sanzhi and Shimen districts and in Yilan County, with smaller amounts distributed to Taipei City, the agency said.
Chih said anyone who had received the Chinese masks — which are embossed with the English words “Carry Mask” on them — can return them from Sept. 4-11 at pharmacies and clinics linked to the National Health Insurance (NHI) system.
As for the manufacturers, Chih said companies found engaging in such illegal behavior would be ordered to halt operations and would face fines of between NT$30,000 (US$1,021) and NT$2 million under the Pharmaceutical Affairs Act.
In response to the news, Economics Minister Wang Mei-hua (王美花) noted that the government had eased the terms of its mask requisitioning order in June, but said it still closely monitored and kept statistics on all mask-related imports and exports.
“A large portion of [the imported face masks] entering Taiwan were indeed from China,” and the company in question was one of those that imported them, Wang said, though she did not state whether this had raised suspicions among those conducting the oversight.
The government began requisitioning domestic face mask production on Jan. 31, and launched a national mask rationing program on Feb. 6.
The effort is credited with ramping up Taiwan’s daily production capacity from 1.88 million to 20 million masks.