🆕 The Executive Yuan has officially launched “eMask 2.0” for preordering masks online, while keeping the current mask distribution systems in pharmacies participating in National Health Insurance. The main purpose of this is, on the one hand, to provide an alternative for people who are having difficulties purchasing masks at pharmacies, due to factors such as time and distance. On the other hand, it is also hoped that this system will ease the tides of people queuing at pharmacies, and solve the shortage of masks in certain areas, thereby increasing the distribution efficiency and usage ratio of masks. Of course, there is room for improvement in any policy, and in the following, we will share with our readers the various policy trade-offs made by the team over the past two weeks.

💻 Firstly, the preorder website for eMask 2.0 was revised from the Ministry of Finance’s tax declaration software, which was chosen for qualities such as the stability of its system, and also because it could go online immediately. However, the system needs to be used with a matching card reader, in order to read NHI cards and Citizen Digital Certificates, but this only works on computers, putting cell phone users at a disadvantage.

📶 With this in mind, the government decided to connect eMask 2.0 to the “NHI Quick and Easy Healthcare” mobile app, and greatly expanded the traffic of the front end and back end systems in order to respond to real demand. In this way, the majority of Taiwanese people will have the same opportunities to use eMask 2.0.

📦 Second, various options for the distribution details of eMask 2.0 were discussed, such as 3 masks per person per week, or 6 masks per person every 2 weeks, which is the system currently used by pharmacies, or a one-time allocation of 50 masks. Based on the considerations made by public health professionals, however, the government eventually decided to make the eMask 2.0 system follow the same pattern of pharmacies, in distributing a maximum of 3 masks per person per week, in order to allow as many people as possible to obtain the basic amount of masks required.

⚖️ Thirdly, according to our calculations, the number of masks that can be used for the first round of distribution through eMask 2.0 is approximately 7 million. Calculating for 3 masks per set, it equates to 2.33 million people. In other words, if more than 2.33 million people preorder masks, then there must be an impartial way of determining who will be eligible to collect the masks.

🆔 Therefore, the team decided that when necessary, a collection list will be generated using a public lottery system. For example, the last digit of the ID card numbers provided by each person will act as an impartial method of identification. Those whose numbers were drawn will each receive an email with a collection number from a designated convenience store.

🎲 The focus here is that the software system will use random numbers to automatically generate the collection list, which in terms of technology, satisfies requirements for fairness. However, it might not be able to meet the high level of social demands for transparency. In comparison, public lottery, while rather primitive, is actually more trustworthy.

ℹ️ Finally, the preorder website uses a registration system instead of a “first come, first served” queuing system. By this, we hope lower the pressure on the system, so that those few people with the ability to write ticket snatching computer programs would not crowd out the rights of other people. p

(Postscript: Since April 9th, each set has been changed to 14 pieces for two weeks. No lottery has been needed so far, and all pre-orders have been successful.)