Who will help if another mask crisis occurs?CHOI HYUN-JU
The author is a life and economic news team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
We are finally free to go outside without masks. The freedom also could soon be applied indoors. While people are cheering the freedom, mask makers are fretting over their viability. Masks were one of the main protections against a novel infectious disease.
The price of a face mask that cost 1,000 won ($0.79) in January 2020 when the first Covid-19 case was reported in Korea shot up to 10,000 won and was hard to find. The government had to ration face masks in March. After declaring masks as “public assets,” the government controlled manufacturing and supply.
Masks were only available on certain days, in certain amounts and at certain locations. After the government encouraged the production of masks, the quantity increased. President Moon Jae-in himself visited a mask factory in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi and encouraged a ramp-up without worry about the consequences. The Moon administration promised to buy the stock even when the demand subsides.
Manufacturers competed to expand their production facilities and hired more employees to run their factories day and night. In five months, 700 million masks were manufactured. But their business soon start to slide downhill as Covid-19 cases decrease remarkably. The government did not keep its promise to buy the stock for reserves or to back their exports.
Whether they increased their production for profit or because of encouragement from the government, mask makers have significantly contributed to stabilizing supplies during times of crisis. If the government neglects their business downturn, who would come to the government’s call for help when the country faces another mask crisis?