Supplies of masks, first line of defense, just can’t keep upMask makers will be able to work overtime to meet soaring demand for protection against the Wuhan coronavirus after the government relaxed enforcement of its 52-hour workweek regulations.
According to the Ministry of Employment and Labor on Friday, starting Friday, companies will be allowed to work overtime in times of disaster including the spread of a virus.
The government changed its enforcement rules, which doesn’t require approval by lawmakers.
Under current law, companies with more than 50 employees have to follow the 52-hour workweek regulations.
The only exception is when there’s a disaster, including the spread of a virus.
“These changes will help companies deal with accidents,” the Minister of Employment and Labor Lee Jae-gap said.
As the new coronavirus spreads, sales of masks have been skyrocketing.
Prices of masks with KF94 rates, which have fine filters, more than doubled from 29,000 won ($24) last Sunday to 53,000 won on Tuesday.
The home shopping industry is jumping on the mask bandwagon.
Lotte Home Shopping sold 500 sets of masks in just five minutes last Tuesday. It said it rushed 25 million won worth of KF94 masks onto the market but can’t keep up with soaring demand.
Another TV shopping channel, CJ O Shopping, said 6,000 sets of masks sold out in 55 minutes.
Hyundai Home Shopping increased its supply by 70 percent, but on Wednesday, 3,000 sets of masks sold out in 18 minutes.
Namyeung Vivien store in Lotte Department Store in Jung District, central Seoul, said that 10,000 KF94 masks sold out within a day.
“All the masks sell in the blink of an eye,” a Namyeung Vivien spokesperson said. “We are considering ways to strengthen core production and logistics systems to increase production.”
Good People, an underwear brand, announced that its KF94 mask sales increased 175 percent in stores nationwide last month compared to the previous month.
Meanwhile, Vice Finance Minister Kim Yong-beom held a meeting Thursday and said the government will crack down on hoarding of supplies next month. It wants to prevent businesses profiteering from mask and hand sanitizer sales.
Violations may result in imprisonment for up to two years or fines of up to 50 million won.
The Fair Trade Commission will strengthen its monitoring of unfair trading practices, including mask price hikes. Violations may result in penalties of up to three years in jail or fines of up to 200 million won.
The decision by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to send 2 million regular face masks, 1 million medical masks and 100,000 medical supplies to Wuhan on Thursday sparked controversy in political circles.
“China desperately needs our help,” a former member of the New Conservative Party, Koo Sang-chan, said.
On the flip side, the move was criticized. “Our citizens are struggling to find their masks,” said Kim Sung-won, a spokesman for the Liberty Korea Party.
BY KIM DO-NYUN, CHU IN-YOUNG, HYUN IL-HOON AND KIM YEON-AH [firstname.lastname@example.org]