Face mask promise was not kept

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Face mask promise was not kept

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Residents of Gangneung, Gangwon, queue in front of a community center to collect face masks on Thursday. The city government started distributing masks from its own inventory on the same day, as shortages made it impossible for the residents to purchase them this week. [YONHAP]

Face masks promised by the government have been delayed, with people showing up at designated retailers and distributors yesterday only to find that they are still out of stock.

Deputy Prime Minister Hong Nam-ki said during a press briefing Thursday the government will ensure 90 percent of all face masks made per day will be available to consumers in Korea.

“We apologize to Korean citizens as the supply disruption of face masks is continuing despite the implementation of measures to tackle the issue,” Hong said. “The government will ensure that 90 percent of daily production is available domestically.”

According to Hong, around 10 million face masks are made in Korea per day, and the government is setting aside nine million for domestic consumption. Face masks cannot be exported until the end of April as a result of emergency measures to ensure supply.

Of the nine million, five million face masks will be available at 1,900 Hanaro Mart stores and 1,400 post offices outside Seoul and Gyeonggi. In Seoul and Gyeonggi, face masks will be distributed via 10,000 pharmacies.

The government announced a day earlier that it will distribute five million units of face masks per day for sale to local consumers starting Thursday.

In that announcement, the government said one million units were to be allocated to Daegu and North Gyeongsang, the two areas most affected by the coronavirus outbreak, and 500,000 units were to be shipped to medical institutions.

The other 3.5 million units were to be shipped off to designated sellers in other areas. Officials set a limit of five face masks per person for purchase at designated sellers to ensure the additional volume is available to as many Koreans as possible.

Local demand for face masks skyrocketed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Physicians were running short on face masks, and many Koreans were forced to buy masks at inflated prices, as the supply couldn’t meet the soaring demand.

A large quantity of face masks have been exported to China, where the virus originated.

President Moon Jae-in said Wednesday that he wants to ensure Koreans “actually feel” the effects of the government’s measures to provide a sufficient supply of face masks.

But even after the government announced its own supply measure, many consumers still faced difficulties securing face masks for themselves Thursday, as the designated sellers were yet to receive the face mask supplies as promised.

People rushed to local pharmacies and Hanaro Mart stores only to hear that there were no face masks.

Hong said in the briefing that the government has yet to finalize contracts with manufacturers and distributors. The national supply chain for face masks is also not ready at this point, but the government said all contracts should be finalized by this weekend.

Yet Hong said the government is going to source around 1.2 million units of masks per day to be on available at pharmacies across the country starting Friday.

Around 550,000 face masks will be shipped to Hanaro Mart stores in areas outside Seoul and Gyoenggi, while another 550,000 units will be distributed to 1,400 post offices in other regions.

As some consumers had to buy face masks at inflated prices, the government said it will also ensure face masks are offered at lower prices.

Addressing the difficulties of small- and medium-sized enterprises amid the virus outbreak, Hong said the government will work to lower the rent price by two-thirds through the end of this year for entrepreneurs in government-owned properties.

The deputy prime minister added that officials will work to revise legislation to provide the benefit as early as April 1.

BY KO JUN-TAE [ko.juntae@joongang.co.kr]

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