WUHAN VIRUS/Government tweaks mask rationing plan to include all foreign nationals

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Taipei, Feb. 5 (CNA) Foreign nationals living in Taiwan will be able to use their national health insurance (NHI) cards or other forms of ID to obtain surgical face masks under a new rationing system that takes effect Thursday at 9 a.m., the National Health Insurance Administration (NHIA) said Wednesday.

Foreign nationals who do not have an NHI card can present a valid Alien Resident Certificate (ARC) or entry permit to purchase the masks, the health agency said.

In a press release, the NHIA offered clarification on its policy toward the roughly 50,000 foreign nationals in Taiwan who do not have NHI cards, a matter that was not addressed when the government announced the initial version of its rationing plan Monday.

On Tuesday, the Health and Welfare Ministry told CNA that a plan was still being worked out for foreign nationals without NHI coverage.

According to the NHIA, under the new rationing system, Taiwanese and foreign nationals will be allowed to buy two masks per week at drugstores and pharmacies, with sales staggered based on the last digit of the ID number on the NHI card, ARC or entry permit.

On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, masks will be sold to people whose ID numbers end with an odd digit, while Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays will be for those with even digit last numbers on their ID, the NHIA said.

On Sundays, anyone will be able to buy the masks, which will cost NT$5 (US$0.16) the NHIA said.

Starting Thursday, the masks will go on sale at 6,000 NHI contracted drugstores and pharmacies, which are identifiable by the NHI logo on the storefront, the agency said.

In Taiwan, the 50,000 foreign nationals who, for one reason or another, do not have NHI coverage include students and other foreign residents who have been in Taiwan for less than six months; migrant workers who have not yet cleared the mandatory health check to obtain their Alien Resident Certificates (ARCs); Chinese students, who are not eligible for NHI coverage; and some foreign diplomats who have not enrolled in the NHI system, according to government officials.

The rationing program is the government's latest effort to guarantee the domestic supply of the masks, amid rising fears over a novel coronavirus (2019 nCoV) outbreak that has infected over 24,500 people, including 11 in Taiwan, and killed 494, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The vast majority of the cases and deaths have occurred in China, the WHO data shows.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel