By Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, March 5 (Yonhap) -- South Korea said Thursday it will bolster its control over the production of key materials used for protective masks, as the country is struggling to expand the supply of sanitary products amid the spread of the novel coronavirus here.
Starting Friday, the country will ban all exports of melt-blown nonwoven fabric filter, the key material essential for the production of protective masks, although exceptions can be granted.
The country will help companies expand their production capabilities as well, while reaching out to other countries to import the fabric.
Last week, the country limited mask exports to a maximum of 10 percent of total output before imposing a full export ban.
South Korea is seeking to increase its daily mask output from 10 million to at least 13 million.
Under the emergency rule, all producers and retailers of melt-blown nonwoven fabric filters will be obligated to report their production and inventories to the ministry every day.
The government can ask the companies to adjust their production and sales destinations, providing them with support including workforce if necessary.
The new regulation will be effective through June 30.
Violators could face a prison sentence of up to two years or a maximum fine of 50 million won (US$42,200).
The COVID-19 outbreak, which had infected 5,621 people in South Korea as of Wednesday, has caused severe shortages of face masks as many see them as a daily necessity, forcing citizens to wait for long hours at designated locations across the nation.
The price of such masks skyrocketed on shopping websites as well, with South Korea intensifying its crackdown on illegal hoarders.
Last week, it approved a plan to distribute 50 percent of its protective masks through public retail platforms to meet the soaring demand. The country hinted it is considering raising the quota to up to 80 percent.
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