Coronavirus: Malaysian firms led by world's top glove maker prioritise medical supplies

A worker inspects newly made gloves at Top Glove factory in Klang, Malaysia, on March 3, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - Top Glove Corp Bhd, the world's biggest maker of medical gloves, plans to start producing face masks to meet rising demand from the coronavirus outbreak, a top executive told Reuters.

The Malaysian company, which makes one out of every five gloves in the world, will have a facility ready in two months with a production capacity of 110 million masks a year.

"The masks... will also be available for sale to our existing healthcare customers, in order to help the market cope with the surge in demand on the back of the Covid-19 pandemic," said executive chairman Lim Wee Chai.

Top Glove's move comes as Malaysian companies modify production to meet a shortage of protective and testing equipment in the country, which has the most number of reported infections in South-east Asia, with 4,228 cases.

Another Malaysian company Karex Bhd, the world's top condom maker, said it has converted two of its lubricant lines to make hand sanitisers after requests from medical customers.

"It's not a very large quantity to begin with but we found we were able to begin production within a month following medical trials, as we are a certified medical product manufacturer," chief executive Goh Miah Kiat said.

Unprecedented demand for medical and testing materials has made it harder and longer for countries to source for essential equipment.

Malaysia this week warned of a potential shortage of reagents, a chemical used in diagnostic tests to detect the presence of the coronavirus.

The health ministry said on Tuesday (April 7) it had only one week's supply of reagents and it was optimising the use of the substance while it tries to secure supplies.

Mr CC Cheah, vice-president of the Malaysian Plastics Manufacturers Association, said several of its member companies will be modifying production lines to make protective and testing gear to reduce dependence on imports.

A company that usually makes materials for diapers will shift its production lines to provide products used in protective gear, while a manufacturer of extrusion products will make swabs used to take samples for coronavirus testing, he said.

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