After a four-month operation, South Korea's mask ration system ended Sunday as the supply of face masks designed to help fight the new coronavirus has stabilized.
As prices of protective masks skyrocketed amid the COVID-19 outbreak here, the country introduced the mask rationing scheme in early March in a bid to smooth out high demand.
Under the scheme, citizens were allowed to buy a limited number of protective masks every week at pharmacies for 1,500 won ($1.24). The weekly limit started with two masks and was raised to 10 masks.
With the termination of the scheme, citizens will be able to buy an unlimited number of masks at market prices.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun took note of the role of drugstores nationwide as a key channel of mask supplies.
"Thankfully, drugstores were with us over the past 137 days amid the crisis situation," he wrote on his social messaging accounts. "It was a valuable opportunity to realize the public nature of drugstores once again."
He extended the government's gratitude to pharmacists, saying, "We will remember (your) hard work and dedication."
Demand for masks sharply stabilized recently as the country has successfully flattened the virus curve, while the mask supply has continued to rise, according to the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety.
Weekly outputs of protective masks have reached more than 100 million since the first week of June, according to the agency.
Last month, the government decided to extend the mask rationing scheme, supposed to end on June 30, to July 11 in an effort to help people easily buy masks.
In case of an emergency, the government will maintain mask stockpiles large enough to meet a sudden rise in demand.
Meanwhile, the country has decided to keep restrictions on exports of masks for their stable local supply, but it will raise the permissible volume of outbound shipments.
Previously, mask producers were allowed to export up to 30 percent of their total output. But the government decided to adopt the monthly exports quota system, under which the total amount of permissible monthly exports should not surpass 50 percent of total production.
But the country will continue to ban overseas shipments of surgical masks and thinner anti-saliva masks to meet local demand for such products in the summer. (Yonhap)