Gov't approves sale of lighter, droplet-blocking masks
The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) has created a new standard for protective masks designed to filter out small, airborne droplets capable of spreading coronavirus infections, while being warm-weather friendly.
The first ministry-approved Korean Filter Anti-Droplet (KF-AD) masks were released on Friday. The new hygienic masks are similar to conventional surgical masks, but are designed specifically to provide higher levels of resistance to airborne liquids, rather than airborne solids.
President Moon Jae-in on May 26 ordered officials to provide safe — but more breathable — masks for students, following reports that students returning to class had been increasingly unwilling to keep their faces covered as the days grow progressively warmer.
"What we thought of as the most important feature of KF-AD masks is whether they have resistance to liquid, because saliva is a significant factor in spreading the coronavirus," Health Minister Lee Eui-kyung said during a May 29 briefing.
The first masks were released on Welkeeps online mall on Friday morning, and the entire supply of 200,000 masks sold out in 5 hours. Due to the heavy web traffic, the customers reported experiencing repeated server crashes. As many as 1.5 million simultaneous users were logging onto the platform as of 10 a.m.
As of Thursday, four companies — Geonyoung Cleantech, Finetech, PnTD, and KM — have earned the ministry's approval to produce KF-AD masks, and PnTD’s Welkeeps was the first to release the product.
Unlike masks that meet the ministry's KF-94 classification, the lighter KF-ADs won't go through a rationing policy to limit the number of purchases per customer. Beginning this month, the government doubled its allocation of those face masks to private-sector retail sales, from 20 percent to 40 percent.
"The supply and demand will stabilize by the end of the month," a senior official at the ministry said.
Welkeeps’ KF-AD mask is set at 500 won ($0.40), about one-third the price of public face masks. The company is capable of producing only about 200,000 units per day.
"We are aware of the status of mask supply and demand and price trends," a ministry official said. "It’s not appropriate for the government to intervene immediately.”
KF-AD masks have been described as easier to breathe through, compared with KF-94 masks, which lack ventilation due to the denser barriers needed to block solid particles.
And the new masks are also not subject to the tendency of lighter surgical masks to crumple inward when the wearer inhales, allowing for more comfortable breathing.
Despite a double-layered structure, the new masks are still thin; when placed on top of a smartphone, the device's silhouette is still visible.
The masks are composed of a non-woven fabric with a melt blown filter, while the lining that touches the face is made of a regular non-woven fabric. The level of performance is equal to a KF-70 to KF-80 filter, according to the MFDS, while being effectively waterproof.
The KF-AD masks weigh 2.5 to 3.4 grams , about half the weight of a KF-94 mask, which is 5 grams.
BY KIM YEON-AH, KIM MIN-WOOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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