Hong Kong manufacturers joining a HK$1.5-billion (US$194 million) subsidy scheme to produce surgical masks should cater to the government’s needs before selling the protective gear to the public, the commerce minister warned on Friday. Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah made the appeal after a company which had received the subsidy quota from the government was alleged to have sold masks to the public. Yau said none of the 13 production lines granted an in-principle approval under the plan had started supplying their products to the government. “If they join this government plan, they should be very careful when they use the name of the scheme to do their promotions. I don’t want them to mislead residents,” he said. “Our regulation limits them to supply goods to the government first. They can sell the masks in the market only after they meet our supply requirements and have extra goods left.” Hong Kong brand V Care Mask sparked a controversy on Thursday when a local newspaper reported it was linked to Topwill Passion Limited, which would secure a subsidy for up to HK$2.5 million from the government as announced last month. Its production line is expected to supply an average of 2 million masks to the government every month from April 20, and produce a further monthly average of 250,000 masks for the market. V Care Mask promoted itself on its Facebook page as the first company getting a mask production subsidy quota from the administration. The Post has reached out to V Care Mask for comments. Where to find surgical masks in Hong Kong amid the pandemic Yau’s bureau on Thursday said manufacturers could make their own selling arrangements for the masks they produced outside the scheme. That includes the ones they made before signing an agreement with the government, or those produced from a non-subsidised production line. The minister on Friday said officials would only sign a deal with production lines after mask manufacturers secured certification for their products and fulfilled other requirements. He said before the firms could meet the standards, the approval would only be an “in-principle” nod. Noting it took a “relatively long” period to secure the certification, the government offered a buffer period of one month if manufacturers missed their targeted date to supply masks to the administration. He expected companies would be able to get the certification in late April or May in phases. “But if they don’t have a reasonable justification and cannot fulfil them after that period of time, they may be disqualified,” he said. Of the 13 approved production lines, five were announced to have granted a subsidy quota on Friday. They were Sinopharm Tech Medical Supplies Limited, Hong Kong Lion Production Company Limited, HKer Medical Supplies Limited, Action Medical Sundries Limited and SDL Skin (Asia) Limited. While seven subsidy quotas are still available, the Hong Kong Productivity Council said 26 applications, involving 33 production lines, had met all eligibility criteria of the scheme. The government will process them as soon as possible. The scheme is part of HK$30 billion coronavirus relief package unveiled in February and aims at resolving the city’s mask shortage, which had left thousands of people, including the elderly, queuing for hours for a box of the protective gear earlier this year.