The National Police Agency (NPA) yesterday ordered local police departments to improve communication with convenience stores and increase patrols following attacks on clerks asking people to comply with COVID-19 mask rules.
On Sunday, a convenience store clerk in Taoyuan’s Gueishan District (龜山) was killed, allegedly by a customer who became incensed after being asked to wear a mask.
A month earlier, a clerk in Taichung was severely injured by a customer brandishing a glass bottle after making a similar request, while a clerk in Pingtung County might lose part of her eyesight after being injured by a customer in late September.
Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times
The agency yesterday told police departments to immediately improve communication with convenience stores, including through a reporting hotline.
If a customer is not complying, a clerk could inform an officer using the hotline and police would respond promptly, it said.
Officers have also been asked to increase patrols, especially late at night, and approach clerks to ask if they need assistance, the agency said.
Lawmakers earlier in the day called for an improved police presence.
As only one staffer is usually on duty during late-night shifts, putting them in a potentially dangerous situation, Democratic Progressive Party caucus whip Liu Shyh-fang (劉世芳) called for more frequent police patrols.
Businesses should consider worker safety when arranging night shifts, Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus whip Alex Fai (費鴻泰) said.
New Power Party secretary-general Christy Pai (白卿芬) said the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) should provide guidelines on how convenience store clerks can protect themselves from customers who refuse to wear masks.
Asked separately yesterday whether mask rules would be modified after the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination coverage reaches a certain percentage, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said they would not change soon, but the center would consider allowing “convenience” in some situations.
“We urge people to prioritize their own safety when trying to persuade other people to wear a mask,” he added.
People can remind others to wear a mask, but they are not obliged to do so, as the police are responsible for enforcing the rules, Chen said, adding that it is similar to when people ask others to get in line or stop fighting — they can call the police to solve the problem.
To avoid direct confrontation between customers and store clerks, the center suggests that stores put up a notice at the entrance reminding people to wear a mask or play pre-recorded audio messages in the store, said Centers for Disease Control Deputy Director-General Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), the CECC’s spokesman.
Stores can also use their surveillance camera footage to report customers who fail to wear a mask to the police, he said.
Meanwhile, Taiwan People’s Party Legislator Lai Hsiang-ling (賴香伶) yesterday urged the Ministry of Health and Welfare to amend the Mental Health Act (精神衛生法) to improve community support systems, emergency psychiatric care, resources for families and individuals, and patient follow-up assistance.
Legislators from across party lines have proposed revisions to the act, but the Executive Yuan has yet to send its version to the legislature, she said, calling on the government to stop delaying the issue.
Additional reporting by Shelley Shan
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