Gifting coal during the snow - face mask shortage



Due to the coronavirus, I've been looking for face masks in Taiwan for about a week now but to no avail. The current national production limit is around 4 million pieces per day, and it is expected to rise to 10 million maximum capacity in 5 weeks time. The original government policy was to distribute them through the major convenience stores like7 Eleven only. These were to be sold in packs of three at USD 0.6 /£0.45 per pack and limited to one per person per day. Taiwan has 23m population that means currently less than 6% of the population will be able to buy the face mask each day. Even at maximum production capacity, only around 13% of the population would be able to buy them.

In the past few days I pop into the convenience store every time I walk past, but every time the answer is the same - sold out. To be honest, I'm not too worried, as the situation is is not that bad in Taiwan yet.


Last night, the government announced the new policy. Starting from 6th February local residents can only buy face masks with their health insurance card. This is a national medical card issued by the government to receive medical services. Every cardholder will be entitled to buy two pieces of masks each week. The new regulations make it fairer for everyone. Of course, some will need more than two masks a week, and many may not need any at all if they seldom go to crowded places. Whether the new rules help to ease people's worry is too early to say, but with scarce resources, they really have limited options.

Therein lies the problem for me. I don't have a health insurance card in Taiwan, so I will be excluded from the latest arrangement. I totally do not have an issue with the exclusion as I am not a resident, and I firmly believe the government should take care of their own citizens first. My problem is, should the situation worsen, what do I do? You could say my chances of getting any face masks from walking into the shops were pretty slim anyway. True. But having a chance to win the lottery is still a chance compared to not being able to buy a lottery ticket at all.


Last night my sister told me about a washable face mask that can filter out 99.9% of virus, bacteria, pollution, dust... At least that's what they say. Normally I would ignore these type of adverts, especially since I Googled it a lot and couldn't find any reviews at all. Everything that came up looked like a sponsored article.

My head tells me this is a company riding on the Coronavirus, but my heart tells me, I will need something in future if the situation worsens. In addition, my sister says if I get some, she'll have two as well, so she can give her medical-grade ones to my brother who is in Hong Kong and is getting zero help from the government. That seems to make perfect sense as my brother in Hong Kong is in a much more dire situation than me in Taiwan.

I placed my order immediately as the website kept on flashing a "Your goods will be held for another 30 minutes", a popular tactic to induce panic purchase. The order cost me USD105 for 5 masks which can each be used 388 times. So assuming I don't get scammed, each use works out one third the price of a normal face mask in Taiwan.

Today I got a message from the store confirming my order and someone responded to me when I asked about the delivery date. At least that's a good sign, the company does exist. The downside, they say it takes 20-25 days for delivery but haven't said when they will deliver yet...


In the meanwhile, friends have given me 8 face masks these couple of days. Everyone is running out nowadays, so I'm grateful for their kindness.

The Chinese have a saying "Gifting coal during the snow".

That's how I feel now.

Posted from my blog with SteemPress :

Comments 32

The same case here in the Philippines. My friends told me they almost tried all of the pharmacies in our area, but all the masks are sold out including the N95. Since the eruption of Mt. Taal, most of the masks were donated there so the corona virus outbreak really made the people panic and horde masks.

I wasn't worried about the mask because we have in our company. What made me worried was the level of preparedness of our government. I know we really are not prepared for a pandemic in case it will not be contained, just like in mainland China.

04.02.2020 14:49

Your government is actually doing very well compared to a lot of others, you turned away a plane quite early on!! Hats off for that.

Hopefully you guys will be safe and keep the infected numbers low as you are now.

!engage 25

04.02.2020 14:55

Yeah. Hopefully the numbers will not grow exponentially or grow at all. Our health department is still verifying the possible 3rd case. The 2nd case here is the first death outside China. Although they're in Manila right now, we were a little agitated a few days ago because it was said that they travelled here in Cebu and they don't have a symptomatic fever which was the reason why they were not detected at the airport. Good thing it was clarified later on that they only stayed at the airport for 3 hours.

I'm still worried though because I have such a weak immune system. I easily catch fever and colds and I'm paranoid to cough in public.

04.02.2020 15:05

Is there a particular type of mask that is the standard trusted mask you buy? I would be happy to look for some here or to see if they can be bought off of the US Amazon site.

04.02.2020 15:01

Thank you @dfinney ❤️
Any surgical grade mask would be OK if they "claim" to stop 99.xx% virus. I think it's likely to be sold out all over internet now as that's easily accessible to everyone and I hear even in all the shops around the world they're being snapped up....

If you happen to come across any please do let me know, but please don't go searching deliberately as I don't want to waste your time and I'm not awfully worried with the situations. I appreciate you asking and your kind offer, that means a lot to me 💖

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04.02.2020 15:51

I hope the masks arrive.

Interestingly the CDC in the USA now seems to be saying that masks won't be of any help - very strange.

04.02.2020 20:11

mmm.... but that still doesn't stop people from buying. I don't know if it's become more of a psychological thing, you feel as though you're being protected if you're covered

08.02.2020 13:35

Yes, something is better than nothing...

08.02.2020 13:38

"Will I be scammed?"

Very probably:

Anyway, face masks have only limited capacity to avoid infection. You should wear them if you already are infected, so you minimize the chance of infecting others.

04.02.2020 20:32

Sometimes I do think if everyine else is wearing them I'll be ok. I just need something as I have a tickly throat sonetimes due to the dry weather and I don't want to be make people paranoid.

Thanks for the website, I wondered if I will be the first one to report them 🤣🤣


!engage 20

05.02.2020 02:52

I also bought a couple of reusable ones though I'm still thinking will be overstock after 2 months

05.02.2020 00:41

You guys are getting free supplies every day, so you should be OK?

06.02.2020 03:20

No no. Just 4 per household. End of story.

06.02.2020 09:38

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05.02.2020 01:57

Thanks a lot Traci!!!

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05.02.2020 02:15

Oh my God, such a simple thing and so much of an issue to get it. I hope that there are no scams to it and people's safety is looked into rather then making money :-(

05.02.2020 07:54

I guess we shall see soon 😅

06.02.2020 03:22

Dear @livinguktaiwan

I've been following news about corona virus literally every day and my concern is growing. Economy is surely going to be hit very hard and I'm curious what will happen once lunar new year is over. Will factories be re-opened or continue being shut down? Hard to tell.

Seriously, difficult times ahead of us.

local residents can only buy face masks with their health insurance card.

That sound like BS. And what about those who travel, are unemployed / don't have this card ?

Last night my sister told me about a washable face mask that can filter out 99.9% of virus, bacteria, pollution, dust...

I would say: get yourself such a mask (if you don't have any other option) and let it dry for a day or two (apparently virus cannot live very long on such an items). Or perhaps spray it with strong alcohol?

My dear friend just posted his own article about this situation. Perhaps I could recommend checking it out.

Yours, Piotr

05.02.2020 10:37

Thanks Piotr, there's been all sort of creative ways to find a substitute now, some are starting to make their own which is not a bad idea actually

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07.02.2020 14:51

UK, I am still in Cali, but headed back home to Japan in two weeks. I just bought and have access to N95 masks. I would be happy to ship a few over to you when I return to Japan if you need them. IMG_5472.JPG

08.02.2020 05:26

Thank you so much for your kind offer @rt395. I really appreciate it. If you're going back to Japan, you may want to keep it for yourself as the cases seem to be growing there. I may have found a solution, but I will definitely keep your kind offer in mind for future reference. Once again, thanks a lot for offering, it means a lot to me to get so much kindness from the virtual world.

08.02.2020 13:43