Mask market monopolization angers corporations

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Mask market monopolization angers corporations

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Employees talk with customers wearing masks at Lotte Department Store in Bujeon-dong, Busan, on Jan. 28. [NEWS1]

With the government nearly monopolizing the purchase of masks - in an effort to achieve an orderly market of the product - companies are not at all happy.

“We need at least 400,000 to 500,000 masks per week if we were to distribute a mask every other day to 100,000 workers. In the current mask rationing system, we cannot purchase in bulk at a company level,” a spokesman for the National Bus Mutual-aid Association said.

Sentiments like this were expressed at an emergency meeting of industry organized by the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

The ministry wanted feedback on the government purchase of eight in 10 masks for organized redistribution, a system that has been in place since Monday.

The ministry brought together 10 organizations for the meeting at the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Monday afternoon.

The list of attendees included the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the National Bus Mutual-aid Association, the Korea Federation of SMEs, the Korea Federation of Banks, the Construction Association of Korea and the Korea Chainstores Association.

“We apologize for the lack of masks. We will try to come up with measures to take the industrial sector into account,” a government official said in the meeting.

An official who attended the meeting said on condition of anonymity that the government’s position was that those who need masks for work should buy masks on their own from pharmacies.

“Even if it is not a cleanroom mask, there should at least be a filter mask since employees are in close contact with other workers in the factory,” an official from a battery company said. “Most companies recently gave out two to three masks a week, but even this won’t last long.”

Retailers with significant face-to-face contact with customers are also anxious about the shortage because they cannot find enough masks for their front-line employees.

In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, a large discount store had enough KF94 masks to distribute masks on a daily basis and even share masks with workers at partner companies as well.

Another large discount store is offering a mask to employees just once a week.

“Each store is supplied with 200 masks per day, so there aren’t enough masks,” the company said.

A large hotel franchise used to offer masks to its employees everyday, but it is distributing three masks per week starting Feb. 17.

Convenience stores are in a state of emergency. A large convenience store franchise stopped supplying masks to employees as of Tuesday, except for branches in Daegu and North Gyeongsang.

“The workers are buying their own masks from pharmacies and reusing them,” a spokesperson from the Korea Association of Convenience Store Industry said.

Some companies are giving out reusable cloth masks.

Amorepacific started distributing cloth masks to 45,000 workers from Tuesday, and Hyundai Motor gave two cloth masks to each employee last Friday. Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki told the National Assembly on Tuesday that the ban on the export of masks should have come sooner.

BY CHU IN-YOUNG AND JANG JOO-YOUNG [kim.yeonah@joongang.co.kr]

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