|HK assured of millions of face masks|
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung King-chung sought to reassure Hong Kong that plenty more face masks are being delivered, and even though the situation is "very tense, the government is working to "facilitate" further imports, RTHK reports.
There have been ugly scenes on occasions as queues grow outside stores suspected to have masks available, as people become increasingly desperate to get their hands on supplies due to the Wuhan virus outbreak.
Throughout the day, the authorities issued a series of statements denying rumors that they would be providing the public with face masks.
But in the evening, Cheung met the media to explain why he believes people should not be too worried about not finding any masks on the city's shelves.
He said eight million masks are on their way, thanks to the government's "facilitation" efforts, which have included discussions with mainland authorities.
Cheung added that another 24 million masks are being made or shipped, without giving any details as to when these new supplies might actually become available.
"The whole question hinges on the supply, the local supply. And if we can tackle the supply at source, I think the problem will be solved, basically," he said.
"That's why we have been leaving no stone unturned in the last few weeks, trying to play the role of a facilitator. For example, most of the importers actually come from the mainland, Hong Kong-based companies, but they're manufacturing on the mainland. That's why we are facilitating with the relevant ministries, customs and so on, to ensure they [the masks] can arrive in Hong Kong on time and also in adequate amounts."
"I think it's a question of market forces, supply and demand," he added.
Despite seeking to reassure people, the chief secretary conceded that there is a global shortage of masks, as fears mount in many countries over the mainland's deadly virus outbreak.
Cheung said a short-term measure to combat the threat of the illness is for people to keep their distance from each other, and this is why the public are being discouraged from gathering in large groups.
He also announced that Hong Kong prisoners are going to be stepping up their production of face masks for government departments, with volunteers sought for night shifts.
Inmates currently make around 1.1 million masks per month and this will be increased to 1.8 million, Cheung said.
An extra face masks workshop is also to be opened at the Lo Wu Correctional Institution.
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