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S. Korea to sharply restrict face mask exports, rev up weekend production

All News 09:15 March 04, 2020

SEOUL, March 4 (Yonhap) -- Government, ruling party and presidential officials agreed Wednesday to sharply restrict exports of face masks and spur their production even during weekends to fight against the new coronavirus.

The government has begun to provide face masks via public organizations since last week amid a surge in infections. But many people still find it difficult to buy protective goods due to a sharp supply shortage.

The ruling Democratic Party (DP), the government and the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae discussed ways to cope with a shortage of mask supply in their consultative meeting held at the National Assembly.

"(The participants) decided to come up with all measures to increase the production of face masks," Lee Nak-yon, head of the party's COVID-19 response panel, said.

"The measures include sharply reducing exports of face masks and encouraging their production during weekends," he added.

Lee Nak-yon (C), head of the ruling Democratic Party's (DP) COVID-19 response panel, speaks at a consultative meeting among government, DP and presidential officials over the new coronavirus at the National Assembly in Seoul on March 4, 2020. (Yonhap)

At last week's Cabinet meeting, the government approved a plan to limit mask exports to a maximum of 10 percent of total output and distribute 50 percent through government and public organizations.

But demand far surpassed supply amid the fast spread of COVID-19 in communities, with many people waiting in long lines for hours to buy face masks provided via public channels.

The participants in the three-way meeting agreed to find ways to raise the fairness in mask distribution and prevent people from buying face masks multiple times.

In particular, they proposed utilizing an online shared information program on medications that is being used at pharmacies, called the Drug Utilization Review.

The program allows pharmacists to check a consumer's history of medication purchases so as to prevent excessive use of medicine.

South Korea has reported nearly 5,200 cases of the new coronavirus since its outbreak on Jan. 20. More than half the cases have been traced to a church of the religious sect Shincheonji in the southeastern city of Daegu.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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