02/17/2020, 15.47
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Coronavirus: mask emergency in China and the rest of the world

Chinese companies make 15 million protective masks per day, but domestic demand is between 50 and 60 million. Local and foreign companies are encouraged to provide their own protective gear. In Hong Kong, a mask costs US.40.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Wuhan's coronavirus (Covid-2019) outbreak, which prompted Chinese authorities to postpone the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress and the People's Political Consultative Conference (early March), is also creating serious problems with the supply of medical products in China and the rest of the world.

China is the world's leading manufacturer of protective masks, a market it conquered thanks to its low-cost production.

According to the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s powerful economic planning agency, China produced 20 million masks a day before the outbreak.

Current production is around 15 million, but media reports indicate that daily demands is between 50 and 60 million. And that doesn’t include demand from abroad.

In several Chinese cities, masks are mandatory in public spaces. Given the shortages, the government has decided to ration their distribution.

To fill the gap, the authorities are encouraging local companies to switch to manufacturing healthcare-related material, not only masks, but also protective suits, disinfectants, thermometers and other medical equipment.

State-owned companies are contributing to the effort by keeping prices low, whilst some large foreign companies are providing health protection for their employees.

Taiwanese giant Foxconn, which assembles components for Apple products, has moved in that direction, devoting parts of its production to making masks, two million masks a day by the end of the month.

China produces half of the masks sold in the world, five billion last year. Because of the outbreak, production has declined, forcing the authorities to turn to foreign markets to meet the demand at home.

But finding protective medical material is hard, even outside the country, especially the N95 respirator masks, which are said to offer better protection to doctors and patients.

To fill the gap, China has turned to US manufacturers who are unable to fill the gap. Prestige Ameritech, the leading US manufacturer in the sector, normally makes 600,000 masks a day, not enough to meet demand.

Some US mask makers had warned that a pandemic could create production problems worldwide, given the excessive reliance on Chinese production.

The high demand has inevitably led to a surge in prices. In Hong Kong a box of 50 masks now goes for HK,500 (US0).

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