If you want to see a model for efficient mass distribution of face masks, take a look at Taiwan.

The country just rolled out what it's touting as the Name-Based Mask Distribution System 3.0, a rationing system for face masks that allows the public to go to a convenience store and buy masks within seconds, while being sure supplies are well-monitored and stock is secured for the future. Not surprisingly, it operates through a universal healthcare system, NHI (National Health Insurance) administration.

  • The procedure involves inserting your National Health Insurance (NHI) card in a service machine, keying in a mobile phone number then checking-out at the cashier. (It helps that Taiwan has the world's highest density of convenience stores.)
  • For $1.73 , one can buy up to nine face masks for a two-week adult allowance and 10 for children. Foreigners with a resident certificate and a NHI card can equally use the service.
  • Back on Feb. 6, with the view of preventing a COVID-19 outbreak similar to China's, Taiwan announced a name-based rationing system for face masks. In the beginning they were to be purchased from the government's contracted pharmacies, with a limit of only two masks weekly due to the mask shortage at that time.

A couple wearing surgical masks in Taipei — Photo: Walid Berrazeg/SOPA Images/ZUMA

  • To avoid long lines outside pharmacies and also to avoid people lining up for nothing, Audrey Tang, Taiwan's Digital Minister, came up with a real-time map of local mask inventory accessible by smartphone.
  • This first effort was then updated to distribution system 2.0 where the public could order masks via the Name-Based Mask Distribution System at either the eMask website or the NHI App from a mobile phone.
  • The 3.0 system is an extension of the two previous measures. It's mainly designed for elderly people who do not use the Internet, and is also designed to relieve the workload of pharmacies.
  • To help in preventing an epidemic, back in mid-February several dozen Taiwanese machine tool manufacturers took the initiative to voluntarily set up a face mask production line to respond to the mask shortage.
  • As of today, Taiwan 's daily production of 16 million medical masks will reach 20 million by the end of this month, making it second largest country for mask production after China. This has enabled the island nation to donate millions of masks to foreign countries hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

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