South Korea said Friday it will provide any necessary support to local producers of fabric filters to help boost the production of face masks amid the spread of the new coronavirus.
The COVID-19 epidemic has caused severe shortages of face masks, prompting the government to introduce a de facto distribution system for protective masks.
Under the measure set to take effect Monday, people can purchase only two face masks per week from pharmacies on designated days of the week depending on their year of birth. Foreigners residing in South Korea can hand in their proof of health care insurance along with their Alien Registration Card.
"We urge companies to expand the production of filters so that South Koreans can access more protective masks," Industry Minister Sung Yun-mo said during his visit to the factory of Clean & Science Corp., a filter producer in Jeongeup, about 260 kilometers south of Seoul.
"South Korea is sparing no efforts to settle any hurdles for filter producers," Sung added.
His visit to the factory came a day after South Korea announced a set of emergency measures that include banning all exports of melt-blown nonwoven fabric filters starting Friday. The companies are obligated to report their production and inventories to the ministry every day as well.
South Korea plans to allocate 2.8 billion won (US$2.3 million) to renovate production facilities of diapers and tissues in the country to increase daily production of fabric filters -- a key material for face masks -- to 27 tons by the end of April, up from the current 12.9 tons.
The move is part of South Korea's efforts to expand local production of protective masks to 14 million sheets daily, up from the current 10 million. An export ban on masks was also put into effect.
South Korea is also seeking to import the filters from other countries and simplify related procedures to promptly supply the material to local mask producers.
The coronavirus has killed 42 people, mostly elderly patients with underlying illnesses, and infected more than 6,000 others in South Korea. (Yonhap)