(ATTN: UPDATES with more details para 3)
SEOUL, June 5 (Yonhap) -- An online shopping channel selling thinner face masks crashed Friday as South Koreans rushed to buy the antivirus masks amid warmer weather.
Mask manufacturer Welkeeps began sales of the "saliva droplet prevention" masks at 9 a.m., but its online server shortly was shut down as shoppers rushed to get the masks priced at 500 won (US$0.40).
Simultaneous access on the website peaked at 7.8 million at around 11 a.m., a company official said. The company's daily stock of 200,000 masks were sold out at around 2 p.m.
While the thinner masks are known to prevent less pollutants than thicker and more durable government-supplied masks, demand for them has been growing as warmer weather makes it uncomfortable for people to wear them.
Demand had especially spiked recently as students across the country began returning to school in May. Parents went on to buy surgical masks for easier breathing, which drove up their prices and exhausted supply.
Data by supermarket operator E-mart showed that sales of surgical masks that are similar to the saliva droplet prevention masks, nearly tripled in the May 22-28 period compared with the previous month.
In a bid to cap prices, the food and drug agency designated the "saliva droplet prevention" masks to prevent saliva droplets and approved nine products manufactured by four companies.
Welkeeps said it plans to continue to provide 100,000 to 200,000 masks on weekdays and consider expanding sales outside of its online shopping mall.
Consumers welcomed the move, hoping it will help loosen up the supply of thinner masks ahead of summer.
"I recently tried to buy surgical masks but found that their price had nearly doubled and mostly were sold out. It's good that the thinner masks will be supplied at a price of 500 won. ... I hope it will help lower the price for other masks as well," said a 40-year-old office worker surnamed Kim.
The thinner masks will be provided by the approved manufacturers, compared with the government-rationed masks that are sold for 1,500 won and limited to three per person on a weekly basis.
Face masks have been a key tool in South Korea's fight against the infectious virus that has infected 11,668 here.
The government regulates the mask supply and advises passengers to always wear masks on buses, taxis and subways.