In industrial parks across northern Taiwan, a team of some 100 technicians has spent the last six weeks assembling 92 surgical face mask production lines that will boost the country's daily production capacity from 4 million to 13 million masks.
Recruited from companies across Taiwan, they have been compared to a national team of engineering talent in the local media and have been hailed by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for their contributions to Taiwan's COVID-19 prevention efforts.
For 63-year-old Chen Yu-hsu (陳宇旭), a factory manager at Posa Machinery in Taichung, taking part in the project has offered a chance to pass along knowledge from his decades of experience in precision manufacturing.
Although assembling face mask production lines is something new for Chen, he said he jumped at the chance when his employer recommended him for the task.
"At my age, it's an honor to still be able to do something for my country," he said.
For many younger team members, however, the constant traveling and grueling hours have required long and difficult separations from their families.
Hsu Hao-tung (徐浩東), an engineer from Taoyuan, compared the work to military service, but said his wife and elementary school-aged son have provided vital emotional support during his time away from home.
Taiwan confirmed its first COVID-19 case on Jan. 21. Within days, surgical face masks disappeared from store shelves, amid panic buying over the country's perceived vulnerability to an outbreak.
In response to the shortages, the government banned face mask exports on Jan. 24 and took control of mask distribution from the private sector on Jan. 31.
On Feb. 6, it launched a rationing system through the National Health Insurance Administration, limiting people to two masks per week.
To increase production, the government invested NT$200 million (US$6.66 million) to purchase new supply lines, and began recruiting a team of about 100 technicians to assemble them at requisitioned manufacturing facilities.
In the first phase of the team's deployment, from Feb. 5-March 5, it completed an estimated four-to-six-month workload, assembling 60 supply lines. With each machine able to manufacture 100,000 masks per day, the country's daily mask production jumped from 4 million to 10 million.
Reflecting that increase, on March 5 the government raised the mask ration to three adult-sized or five child-sized masks per week.