The first confirmed case of COVID-19 was detected in Taiwan on January 21, 2020, which led to widespread public panic. To coordinate with government policies, the Department of Consumer Protection, Executive Yuan (abbreviated as DCP) immediately took the following relevant consumer protection measures. This summary is a reference for all countries:
I. Supporting measures for epidemic prevention policies related to masks
1. DCP conducted a joint inspection of surgical masks in hypermarkets, supermarkets, drug stores and pharmacies in Taipei with the Fair Trade Commission on January 21, 2020 to understand whether masks were out of stock, whether mask prices had increased and the situation of mask hoarding. Consumer ombudsmen of local governments also cooperated with the inspection. After the inspections, the DCP released news that surgical masks are in abundant supply, so consumers do not need to panic buy in large quantities.
2. The Central Epidemic Command Center announced that from January 31, the government would requisition medical masks and surgical masks produced by factories in Taiwan, and that “medical masks” would be listed as epidemic prevention materials. For anyone found to be hoarding masks in significant quantities or dramatically increase mask prices, they shall be subject to a sentence of 1 to 7 years of imprisonment and cumulatively punished with a fine of up to NT$ 5 million in accordance with the Law on the Prevention and Treatment of Infectious Diseases. DCP has adopted 3 main measures to coordinate with this policy:
(1) Persuade and guide the public: In Taiwan, the 1950 hotline is the national consumer consultation line. When consumers call this number, they will be connected to the consumer service center of the local county (or city) where the consumer is located. After the government listed “medical masks” as epidemic prevention materials and the sales channel and pricing were restricted, the government also announced to the public that if anyone finds abnormal masks with abnormal pricing and quality defects, they could call the 1950 hotline to make a report. In addition to inviting 12 consumer protection groups to assist in the promotion, DCP used the following channels to inform the public:
a. Official website home page (https://cpc.ey.gov.tw/)and Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/cpc.smart/).
b. LED screen marquees at train stations, highway service areas, hospitals and supervision stations.
c. Broadcast TV and cable TV channels.
d. Mass Rapid Tansit(MRT) and High Speed Rail station platform screens.
(2) Coordinating the cooperation of the industry: On February 4, DCP invited the six largest online trade platform providers and related competent authorities in Taiwan to discuss how to eliminate the phenomenon of selling requisitioned masks and price hiking. All parties agreed to practice self-discipline. DCP requested the Ministry of Economic Affairs to inform other e-commerce platforms for reference. On February 18, the Taiwan branch of Facebook and competent authorities were invited to a meeting on how to stop people who are selling requisitioned masks through Facebook ads.
(3) Inspect the market: DCP, together with consumer ombudsmen of 22 county and municipal governments have frequently visited stores to find out if masks, alcohol, hand sanitizer and other epidemic prevention materials are out of stock and checking whether prices had been increased. For example, on January 30, DCP found that a seller was selling medical masks at a high price on an online shopping platform. Two advertisements were removed after checking with the website platform. DCP then invited large network transaction platforms in Taiwan to meet and requested consumer protection ombudsmen to check mask pricing in the market. The checking continued until the Central Epidemic Command Center released an announcement that masks must be purchased under the mask-rationing plan from February 6. Since then, people can only buy masks at pharmacies with a health insurance card and each citizen can only buy a limited quota of masks once a week.
II. Improve consultation service efficiency, raise awareness and promptly release news
Besides promptly releasing important news, the official website of DCP added a “COVID-19 area” (https://cpc.ey.gov.tw/Page/C49031D3BCAA55A8) to include response measures taken by DCP and competent authorities, promotion resources, relevant policies and online complaints, thus informing consumers of important consumer information and actions by relevant authorities. Due to panic among consumers caused by the severe global pandemic, telephone inquiries have greatly increased. To improve consultation service efficiency and further enhance consultation service capacity, the following measures are being actioned:
1. Coordinate the 1950 hotline of municipality and county (city) governments to provide answering services during non-working hours (such as holidays and evenings, open 24 hours).
2. DCP has been calling on consumer protection volunteers, who assist with telephone consultation services during office hours. Since February 1, it has increased the number of shifts on holidays to respond to needs for public consumer consultation services.
3. Count the number of complaints and consultation cases related to the epidemic on a daily basis, and analyze the types and patterns for the reference of government decision-making. According to statistics, from January 30 to March 23, there were 16,483 cases related to the epidemic. Among them, cases related to tourism were the highest, accounting for 8,887 (54%), followed by epidemic prevention materials (including masks, alcohol and disinfectants), catering and leisure.
III.Clarify the refund handling mechanism for cancelling overseas travel and cruise ship travel:
1. Overseas travel:
(1) Group tours:
The Disease Control Agency of the Ministry of Health and Welfare will update the “International Tourism Epidemic Suggestion Scale” in accordance with the international epidemic situation, which divides the scale of the epidemic in affected countries into 3 levels. Tourists traveling to countries with different epidemic levels shall follow different rules for cancellations and refunds.
a. Regions listed as Level 1 are at a “Watch” status. The government reminds people to follow local general prevention measures. Passengers who wish to cancel shall be receive a proportional compensation for the travel cost based on time interval between the date of cancellation and departure date.
b. Regions listed as Level 2 are at an “Alert status. The government suggests people taking enhanced prevention measures. Passengers who propose cancellation shall pay an administrative fee paid by their travel agency or other necessary expenses, and no more than 5% of travel expenses. Travel agencies shall provide “documentation” of the administrative fee and necessary expenses.
c. Regions listed as Level 3 are at a “Warning” status. The government suggests that people should avoid traveling these regions. Passengers who propose cancellation only need to pay an administrative fee paid by their travel agency or other necessary expenses.
(2) Travel abroad on your own:
a. With the coordination of DCP and the Civil Aeronautics Administration, airlines in Taiwan, mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau are providing measures for free refunds and changes to certain routes.
b. If the passenger’s flight is normal, the ticket shall be refunded or changed in accordance with the ticket contract terms.
c. Refunds on accommodation and transportation expenses in the destination country shall be handled in principle in accordance with the terms of contact signed with the operator, but passengers can negotiate with the operator about postponing or other alternative solutions to reduce losses.
(3) When other countries prohibit the entry of flights from Taiwan or the entry of Taiwanese citizens due to the epidemic, passengers only need to pay an administrative fee paid by their travel agency or other necessary expenses.
2. Cruise ship travel: After the implementation of the international cruise ship-docking ban, cruise ship operators have successively announced the cancellation of cruise travel from Taiwan. Passengers can choose to postpone or get a refund. Having received a number of passenger complaints about high cost cancellations of non-cancelled cruise travel charged by travel agencies or the failure to refund fees as stipulated in the contract, DCP invited the Tourism Bureau of the Ministry of Transportation & Communications, representatives of the cruise industry, travel union to a meeting, and reached the following consensus:
(1) If passengers propose cancellation, the travel agency shall provide “documentation” of the administrative fee and necessary expenses and return the balance to the passenger after checking and deducting the fees and expenses.
(2) If cruise ship owners cancel cruise travel, the travel agency shall in principle, refund the rest of the travelling expenses to passengers after deducting administrative fees (such as passport and visa agent fees) paid on behalf of the passenger. If deductions include other “necessary expenses” (transportation, catering, accommodation admission fees and other fees paid by the travel agency, not including administrative expenses of the travel agency and cancellation service charges), the travel agency shall provide “documentation” in accordance with regulations to prove that there are related expenses.
(3) If cruise ship operators need to cancel future cruise travel due to abiding the port docking ban, they shall handle it according to the above-mentioned principles.
IV. Investigate epidemic prevention measures at indoor consumption locations
In order to identify epidemic prevention measures in crowd gathering or enclosed consumption locations, DCP sent officials to visit to important places of business.
1. Cinemas and karaoke: Though the government has not yet issued laws to stipulate which epidemic prevention measures should be adopted by cinemas and karaoke, DCP sent officials to conduct onsite inspections since cinemas and karaoke are popular leisure outlets with the younger population. The results show: all service staff wore masks. Alcohol sanitizers, hand sanitizers and sterilizers were provided onsite; some karaoke volunteered to disinfect and clean hands for consumers and measure their temperature. However, no cinemas took the initiative to adopt such measures. Most karaoke posted epidemic notice information; but cinemas did not have any onsite notices. Most cinemas and karaoke did not publicize information on the situation of the cleanliness and disinfection of the business premises. DCP also released news to remind operators to implement epidemic prevention measures.
★ Measures before entry:
◎ Before entry to an indoor location, staff shall volunteer to disinfect and clean hands for consumers and take their temperatures, or guide those who have not disinfected their hands to use alcohol sanitizers, dry hand sanitizers and hand sterilizers.
◎ Parent shall help or supervise children when they use alcohol sanitizers or hand sterilizers to avoid alcohol being sprayed into the eyes. Children are not permitted to use such items on their own.
★Implement and publicize the situation of cleanliness and disinfection of the business premises:
◎ The entire premises shall be disinfected and cleaned daily. 75% alcohol sanitizers should be available for consumer use.
◎ Strengthen the health management of onsite staff.
◎ After each room is cleared, disinfection shall be performed; facilities and equipment like microphones should be disinfected with alcohol (especially at KTVs).
2. Fitness centers: Cases of gym infections abroad have raised public concerns about indoor sports venues. DCP sent officials to visit 26 private chain gyms and public sports centers from February 8 to 23. DCP released news and recommendations to the sports industry: strengthen epidemic prevention measures before entry of consumers, take the initiative to take the temperature and clean hands for consumers, and publicize the situation of the cleanliness and disinfection of the business premises.
V. Response measures for panic buying of daily necessities
1. In February, due to internet rumors of a shortage of pulp raw materials, a surge in toilet paper buying and stockpiling occurred. From February 9 to 14, DCP sent officials to visit hypermarkets and supermarkets in the Taipei Metropolitan Area, and mobilized consumer ombudsmen from 22 local governments to launch synchronized investigations, thus controlling the supply position of toilet paper in stores across Taiwan and coordinating the six largest supermarket retailers to ask manufacturers to restock actively. DCP also reminded consumers that competent authorities have clarified that there is no shortage of raw materials or insufficient supplies of toilet paper, and that news of toilet paper shortages or price increases were just rumors, and appealed to consumers to purchase according to their needs.
2. On March 18, there were 23 new confirmed cases in Taiwan, with a total number of 100 cases. Panic buying of daily necessities surged due to worries about the spread of the epidemic. DCP sent officials to hypermarkets and supermarkets every day from March 18 to inspect the supply and demand condition of daily necessities, and collated materials for the reference of senior government heads for decision-making. Besides, DCP understood the situation of online selling of daily necessities through four web platforms and found that consumer demand for rice, instant noodles, toilet paper, canned and frozen foods have greatly increased because of the public’s anxiety, but suppliers have indicated that there are sufficient raw materials. The lack of stock is due to the lack of inventory space, lack of work force to restock and inadequate logistics and transportation, thus resulting in a shortage of goods on shelves. On March 20, the Ministry of Economic Affairs coordinated large-volume distributors to implement purchasing restrictions on toilet paper. Each person is limited to one pack of toilet paper. Since the implementation, the supply of toilet paper has gradually returned to normal.