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'Don't buy masks,' say some S. Koreans as supply crunch continues

All News 15:40 March 04, 2020

By Lee Minji

SEOUL, March 4 (Yonhap) -- Wearing a face mask has become a daily routine for many South Koreans as the country continues to fight the new coronavirus that has infected more than 5,000 here so far.

As the outbreak continues, masks that used to cost less than 1,000 won (US$0.84) in online bulk sales have become a scarce and costly resource, even generating the meme "mask chaebol," referring to those who have stocked up on face masks.

People queue in front of a supermarket in southern Seoul to purchase masks on March 4, 2020. (Yonhap)

Despite the mask craze, an online movement encouraging people not to buy masks is gaining traction. Those who have joined the campaign are asking others to refrain from mask purchases so that people who really need the masks can buy them.

"If you have 15 to 20 masks at home, how about not buying masks for the time being, so that those who really need the masks can get them. They say that government supply may loosen up in early March so how about waiting a bit," reads one Tweet that has been shared several thousand times.

A screenshot of a tweet posted by a user who uses the Twitter handle @namhoon encouraging people to stop buying masks for the time being. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

"Mom cafes," or online communities of moms, have also joined the move. The online communities, usually centered on specific neighborhoods, are encouraging members to put a brake on their mask purchases or to donate masks to the elderly or pregnant women.

The move comes as mask demand has driven up prices, with some online sellers charging double or triple pre-outbreak prices. The shortage of affordable masks has prompted some to reuse masks for days or make masks at home.

The government has stepped in, tightening exports and distributing masks via pharmacies, post offices and supermarkets affiliated with farm cooperatives. The number of masks sold to each person is usually limited to prevent hoarding, but even then, stocks tend to run out quickly.

On Wednesday, President Moon Jae-in also called on the government to take stronger measures on the mask issue and ensure a "rational and fair" supply.

"Those who are exposed to bigger risks are the elderly or those in areas where infections are spreading quickly. They should be given priority in getting the masks," said a 34-year-old office worker who works in the financial district of Yeouido.

"I hope supply will soon loosen up. Until then, I'm going to stick to the masks my company gives out every few days so that the masks at the pharmacy will go those who really need them."

mlee@yna.co.kr
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