Gifting coal during the snow – face mask shortage

Gifting coal during the snow – face mask shortage

4th February 2020 5 By livinguktaiwan



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.