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(LEAD) Consumers rush to buy thinner face masks ahead of summer

All News 14:09 June 05, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details in para 3, last 2 paras, photo)

SEOUL, June 5 (Yonhap) -- An online shopping channel selling thinner face masks crashed Friday as South Koreans rushed to buy the antivirus masks amid warmer weather.

Mask manufacturer Welkeeps began sales of the "saliva droplet prevention" masks at 9 a.m., but its online server shortly was shut down as shoppers rushed to get the masks priced at 500 won (US$0.40).

Some 1.5 million people accessed the website at one moment, a company official explained, adding they plan to sell another batch starting Monday.

While the thinner masks are known to prevent less pollutants than thicker and more durable government-supplied masks, demand for them has been growing as warmer weather makes it uncomfortable for people to wear them.

Demand had especially spiked recently as students across the country began returning to school in May. Parents went on to buy surgical masks for easier breathing, which drove up their prices and exhausted supply.

Data by supermarket operator E-mart showed that sales of surgical masks that are similar to the saliva droplet prevention masks, nearly tripled in the May 22-28 period compared with the previous month.

This June 1, 2020, photo shows surgical masks on sale at a supermarket in central Seoul. (Yonhap)

In a bid to cap prices, the food and drug agency designated
the "saliva droplet prevention" masks to prevent saliva droplets and approved nine products manufactured by four companies.

Welkeeps, which had prepared 200,000 masks on its first day of sales, said it plans to continue to provide 100,000 to 200,000 masks on weekdays and consider expanding sales outside of its online shopping mall.

Consumers welcomed the move, hoping it will help loosen up the supply of thinner masks ahead of summer.

"I recently tried to buy surgical masks but found that their price had nearly doubled and mostly were sold out. It's good that the thinner masks will be supplied at a price of 500 won. ... I hope it will help lower the price for other masks as well," said a 40-year-old office worker surnamed Kim.

The thinner masks will be provided by the approved manufacturers, compared with the government-rationed masks that are sold for 1,500 won and limited to three per person on a weekly basis.

This May 26, 2020, photo shows people waiting for the subway at Seoul Station in central Seoul. (Yonhap)

Face masks have been a key tool in South Korea's fight against the infectious virus that has infected 11,668 here.

The government regulates the mask supply and advises passengers to always wear masks on buses, taxis and subways.


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