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Homeland Security

NHI agency hoping for improvement in mask rationing system

ROC Central News Agency

02/07/2020 11:04 PM

Taipei, Feb. 7 (CNA) Amid difficulties in getting face masks under the government's rationing system, the National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA) is hoping that the situation will improve in the near future.

NHIA chief Lee Po-chang (李伯璋) told CNA on Friday that he did not expect the rationing system to last long as supplies are expected to increase soon.

Economic Affairs Minister Shen Jong-chin (沈榮津) said Thursday that Taiwan currently produces 3.2 million surgical face masks a day, but is hoping to boost that to 4.6 million within two weeks as new equipment is installed at production facilities across the country.

Lee also said the bureau is constantly reviewing the system and working on adding new features as necessary, but he acknowledged that it had some shortcomings for foreign nationals who do not speak or read Chinese.

The government has put out a general description of how the system works in English that can be found at https://www.ntl.edu.tw/ct.asp?xItem=70081&ctNode=604&mp=2.

Under the system, 200 masks for adults and 50 masks for children are being distributed to NHIA-contracted pharmacies for sale per day to people who present their NHI card. People can buy two every seven days.

That has led to supplies being quickly snapped up at local pharmacies, but the government has developed websites and mobile applications that provide real-time mask inventories for each pharmacy.

Those apps are not available in English, however, and Lee acknowledged there was a real-time information gap for those who cannot read Chinese.

Su Hsiu-jung (蘇秀蓉), who runs Shang-i Pharmacy, said the system has been initially confusing for everyone.

She said the government-controlled masks are delivered on a daily basis, and she has to work two hours before her store opens at 9 a.m. on weekdays to divide the 250 masks into small packages.

On weekends, she distributes the masks starting at 3 p.m.

Since the system hit the road on Feb. 6, her customers have had to wait for at least 40 minutes to get a "queue card," and they were the lucky ones.

About 40-50 customers have been unable to get the cards each, said Su, who spends much of her time explaining how the system works and providing patient instructions.

Many pharmacies, such as Su's, post information on their front doors detailing when they will start giving out queue cards and how many they are giving out in each time slot, if there is more than one.

That information is generally also in Chinese, but not English, and the only way to get clear information is to ask. Su also suggests to her customers to line up about an hour before the store opens on days the pharmacy distributes masks in the morning.

(By Lee Hsin-Yin)


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