[Coronavirus] S. Korea boosts mask production to address shortage

By Park Sae-jin Posted : February 28, 2020, 17:12 Updated : February 28, 2020, 17:12

People stand in a long line to buy face masks nearby a shopping mall in Seoul on February 28. [Yonhap Photo]

SEOUL -- The South Korean government vowed to hand out five million face masks every day to tackle the shortage of products. Masks have disappeared from the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies as the number of patients infected with a new coronavirus surged. Retailers and middlemen have been blamed for hoarding them for profit-taking.

Masks used to be priced at 800 won ($0.66) each, but the price has soared to more than 5,000 won on online reseller stores.

"We are creating a foundation so that five million masks can be distributed in the market starting today," Kim Yong-beom, a vice minister at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, told reporters on Friday. He said that consumers can buy masks more easily next week because government measures to ensure the stable distribution of face masks took effect on February 26.

To address the shortage of masks, the National Tax Service has deployed 526 investigators to monitor 263 mask manufacturers and distributors. Hoarding will be punished with a special tax audit.

Government data showed that South Korea is capable of producing melt-blown (MB) filters for ten million medical face masks a day. Of 136 mask manufacturers, 22 use melt-blown filters from China.

The performance of medical masks depends on the efficiency of filters. MB filters are a net of finely spun-bonded polypropylene that collects microscopic matters such as particulate matter and microorganisms. Face masks are worn to prevent droplet infection caused by coughing and sneezing.

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