Coronavirus: Chinese factories suspend own production to make masks in fight against virus

Masks are seen on a production line at a factory in Shanghai on Jan 31, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

SHENYANG (XINHUA) - A garment plant in Fushun, northeast China's Liaoning province, recently bought 10 tonnes of medical non-woven fabric and began producing masks.

"About 20 workers at the plant can produce over 5,000 masks a day," said the head of the company. The masks are expected to be delivered to medics at the frontlines of the battle against the novel coronavirus.

Many factories across the country have suspended their own production and turned to manufacturing medical supplies to fill the demand gap amid the outbreak.

Data from the National Development and Reform Commission, the country's top economic planner, showed China produces about half of the world's masks with a daily output of 20 million. But that remains insufficient to meet the demand that has risen exponentially in recent weeks following the outbreak of the virus.

Even global stocks of personal protection equipment are raising red flags, according to the World Health Organisation.

Since masks are considered simple products that can be manufactured by existing production lines without much retrofitting, China has encouraged factories to join the production of protective masks to increase supply.

Liuzhou-based auto maker SGMW in south China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region last week announced that it would revamp 14 of its production lines to produce N95 and other surgical masks with a daily output expected to reach more than 1.7 million.

A Foxconn plant also began trial-producing masks last week and is applying for product qualification certification.

Data from Chinese online database query platform showed more than 3,000 companies in China had added "masks, protective clothing, disinfectant, thermometers and medical equipment" to their business scope since the year began.

Local governments have also rolled out supportive policies such as fund subsidies, fast approval, financing and manpower support to help factories switch production.

The local government in Liaoning's capital city of Shenyang recently helped a medical science and technology firm re-register its business licence within a day, after learning that the company still kept its factory and equipment for making surgical masks despite having closed its production line due to poor management five years ago.

It also allocated funds to help the firm resume production of the masks within days.

"We now can produce 20,000 medical protective masks a day and the daily output is estimated to reach 220,000 when a new line enters production in about 20 days," said Mr Gao Wei, the company's general manager.

Some manufacturers, however, have expressed concern about the possibility of overcapacity when the epidemic is resolved. In response, Mr Lian Weiliang, deputy director of the NDRC, said the government would be the ultimate buyer if the market could not consume all the products.

More than 76 per cent of mask production capacity in China's 22 provincial regions were back in operation by Monday (Feb 10), according to Mr Cong Liang, secretary-general of the National Development and Reform Commission.

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