S. Korea eases strict restrictions on exports of high-quality masks

Lim Chang-won Reporter() | Posted : April 24, 2020, 12:53 | Updated : April 24, 2020, 13:54

[Aju News DB]

SEOUL -- Satisfied with sufficient stock and stable distribution, South Korea eased strict restrictions on exports of masks which have played a crucial role in abating the spread of a novel coronavirus. Korean War veterans in foreign countries will be the first group of recipients to wear high-quality products from South Korea.

As the supply of masks is stable, drugstores are now well-stocked with masks. As of April 21, 86.6 percent of all pharmacies in South Korea have masks in stock, according to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety, a state watchdog that controls the public supply of masks at reasonable prices.

"We're still cautious, but we can afford to look back at our neighbors in need," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government anti-epidemic center on Friday. He approved the shipment of one million masks for overseas veterans who fought alongside South Korean troops during the 1950-53 Korean War to revel a communist invasion.

Countries that sent troops during the war included the U.S. Britain, Canada, Turkey, Australia, the Philippines, New Zealand, Thailand, Ethiopia, Greece, France, Colombia, Belgium, South Africa, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Many veterans who are still alive are old and susceptible to COVID-19.

"While keeping a close eye on the supply and demand of masks in the future, shipments will be exceptionally allowed to overseas consumers based on a national consensus to the extent that there is no problem with domestic supply," Chung said.

For domestic use, three discounted masks of good quality will be allotted to each individual a week instead of two, beginning next week, Chung said, suggesting people need more masks if South Korea eases strict quarantine guidelines and social distancing. "I think we will need more masks as economic activity increases in the future."

Chung's remarks reflect confidence among health officials in handling the epidemic which showed clear signs of slowing down. On Friday, South Korea reported six new cases and the death toll remained unchanged at 240. Out of 10,708 people infected with COVID-19, 8,501 have been cured and discharged from hospitals.

When South Korea was hit by a COVID-19 epidemic in February, masks disappeared from the shelves of supermarkets and pharmacies as the number of patients infected with a new coronavirus surged. Retailers and middlemen have been blamed for hoarding them for profit-taking that fanned a price hike.

For the stable distribution of masks, the government has increased the production of masks, along with an intensive crackdown on hoarding. A strict system was introduced on March 9 to allowing each person to buy two masks of high quality a week on an assigned day, which depends on their birth year, at pharmacies and other designated places

Health officials believe that masks have played a crucial role in preventing droplet infection caused by coughing and sneezing.
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