Labor Ministry to give millions of masks to at-risk workers

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Labor Ministry to give millions of masks to at-risk workers

Taxi drivers, call center employees and foreign workers are among those who will get 10 masks each under a program to provide the protective equipment to a range of at-risk workers, the government announced Thursday.

A total of 3.65 million masks will be provided through May 8, the Ministry of Employment and Labor said. The masks will be distributed via trade associations and related government agencies.

Since the early days of the coronavirus outbreak in Korea, residents worried about the highly contagious illness have been buying masks more quickly than manufacturers can make them. Since March 9, the government has controlled the distribution of masks by limiting them to two masks per person each week.

The government said it will give 230,000 masks to call centers with less than 300 employees and 690,000 masks to delivery workers and taxi and bus drivers at businesses with less than 50 employees.

Another 1.2 million will be given to small manufacturing plants with less than 50 workers where employees are exposed to harmful fumes and airborne dust.

Sailors, who have to work in close quarters for extensive periods, will receive 200,000 masks. Foreign workers will receive 160,000 masks.

The Labor Ministry also said the government is also distributing masks to foreign workers, as many have struggled to purchase publicly sold masks.

Koreans only have to provide identification to purchase their weekly allotment, but foreigners are required to show their alien registration cards as well as a national health insurance certificate, which many lack.

As of May 2019, there were 1.32 million foreigners at least 15 years of age, according to a study from Statistics Korea. Among those, 863,000 were employed.

The manufacturing industry accounted for 46.2 percent of foreigners’ jobs, while wholesale, retail, restaurant and lodging industries accounted for 19.1 percent. About 11 percent worked in the construction industry.

The study showed that 70 percent worked at small companies with less than 30 employees. Nearly 90 percent of those workers made less than 3 million won ($2,400) a month. Nearly 50 percent made between 1 and 2 million won.

“We are in a situation where there is a need for various efforts to help foreign workers to not be excluded from quarantine management and preventive support in relation to Covid-19,” Vice Labor Minister Lim Seo-jeong said Wednesday at a Korea Support Center for Foreign Workers office in Seoul. “We plan to help foreign workers who struggle to get information [on Covid-19] because of the language barrier [and] to secure masks without difficulty through the foreign worker support centers.”

BY LEE HO-JEONG [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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