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(LEAD) Moon orders flexible operation of new face-mask distribution system

All News 17:42 March 06, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with Moon's visit to mask producer in last 3 paras; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, March 6 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in ordered government officials Friday to flexibly implement a new system for distributing face masks to the public in a bid to reduce inconvenience for people fighting against the new coronavirus.

Under the measure that will take effect Monday, people may buy only two protective masks per week from pharmacies, on designated days of the week, depending on the final number of their year of birth.

The goal of the measure is to allow an even distribution of face masks amid a serious supply shortage, as many people have had to wait in long lines to purchase them through designated public channels.

But critics pointed out a shortcoming of the new system, as it does not allow people to buy face masks on behalf of family members, such as elderly people or children. It only permits proxy-purchases of masks for disabled people.

Citizens wait in long lines to buy face masks to protect themselves from the new coronavirus at a Nonghyup Hanaro Mart in Gwangju, 329 kilometers southwest of Seoul, on March 6, 2020. (Yonhap)

Moon instructed government officials to broaden the scope of people who can have family members or acquaintances purchase face masks on their behalf, according to Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kang Min-seok.

"The system itself works to address inconvenience and limitations among the public. There is a need to prevent the scheme from leading to new inconvenience," Moon was quoted as saying by Kang at a press briefing.

The president also ordered officials to expedite the development of an application that provides the information on mask stockpiles at pharmacies to help people avoid having to jump around to different pharmacies to make their purchase, Kang added.

Later in the day, Moon visited Wooil C&Tech Corp., a face mask-producing company in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, to look around the facility and encourage its workers.

Moon urged the company to "increase mask production adequately" as demand far surpasses supply amid the fast spread of the new coronavirus in communities.

After the COVID-19 outbreak ends, the government will buy leftover masks for state stockpiles and designate them as "strategic" items, Moon added.

President Moon Jae-in (C) visits Wooil C&Tech Corp., a face mask-producing company in Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul, on March 6, 2020, and looks around its storage of mask materials. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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