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Homeland Security

Foreign nationals without NHI cards left out of mask rationing plan

ROC Central News Agency

02/04/2020 09:28 PM

Taipei, Feb. 4 (CNA) When a new rationing system for surgical masks takes effect Thursday, all customers will be required to present their national health insurance (NHI)cards at pharmacies and drugstores to buy the masks, but a plan is still being worked out for those foreign nationals who do not have NHI coverage, the health ministry said Tuesday.

The ministry's statement came after the government on Monday announced a new mask-rationing system that effectively excluded about 50,000 foreign nationals who do not have NHI cards.

Under the rationing system, Taiwanese and foreign nationals with NHI cards will be allowed to buy two masks per week at drugstores and pharmacies, said Chang You-hsuan (張鈺旋), an official at the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW).

On Sundays, anyone will be able to buy the masks, once they present their NHI cards, but on the other days of the week, sales will be staggered based on the last digit of the ID number on the NHI card, Chang said.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, masks will be sold to people whose ID numbers end with an odd digit, while Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays will be for those with even-digit last numbers on their ID, she said.

Starting Thursday, the masks will be sold at 6,000 NHI contracted drugstores and pharmacies at a price of NT$5 (US$0.16) each, through a quick process of digitally scanning the buyers' NHI cards, according to the authorities.

The government's initial plan, however, did not take into consideration the 50,000 foreign nationals in Taiwan who, for one reason or another, do not have NHI coverage.

These include students and other foreign nationals who have been in Taiwan for less than six months; migrant workers who have not yet cleared the mandatory health check to obtain their Alien Resident Certificates (ARCs); Chinese spouses and students, who are not eligible for NHI coverage; and some foreign diplomats who have not enrolled in the NHI system, according to Chang.

She said the government is in the process of working out some supplementary regulations that may allow foreign nationals to present their ARCs or passports at drugstores and pharmacies, in the absence of NHI cards.

The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) will make the announcement sometime after the new rationing system starts on Feb. 6, according to Chang.

Meanwhile, on the question of why the daily quota of masks was drastically reduced from three per day to two per week per person, the government did not give a clear explanation, saying only that the masks will be more fairly distributed under the new system.

Since Jan. 31, the government has been requisitioning the 3.2 million surgical masks produced daily by domestic manufacturers, with 1.7 million masks being sold to consumers and the rest channeled to medical workers and people involved in prevention efforts against the 2019 novel coronavirus that has been spreading across the globe from China.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)

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