Booming mask production in China meets global demand

Published March 28, 2020
This Feb 28 file photo shows workers producing face masks at a factory in China’s northern Hebei province. —AFP
This Feb 28 file photo shows workers producing face masks at a factory in China’s northern Hebei province. —AFP

BEIJING: As the coronavirus pandemic that originated in a central Chinese city has gone global, thousands of factories in China have nimbly turned to a new and very profitable market — face masks for export.

At the height of China’s outbreak in early February, Guan Xunze’s company created a new mask factory in just eleven days.

The factory, with five production lines in northeastern China, made the much-needed N95 face masks which were in huge demand as infection numbers surged.

As cases in the country have dwindled, the 34-year-old — who was previously in pharmaceuticals — is now profiting from new markets and exporting masks to Italy, where the death toll has overtaken that of China.

In the first two months of the year, a staggering 8,950 new manufacturers started producing masks in China, according to business data platform Tianyancha — racing to fill the huge gap in demand.

But after the virus epicentre of Hubei province was placed on lockdown and the initial frenzy began to die down in China, virus outbreaks emerged in new hotspots elsewhere in the world.

Globally more than 400,000 have been infected with the deadly coronavirus, and demand for protective equipment is still soaring as nations across the globe battle the outbreak.

“A mask machine is a real cash printer,” said Shi Xinghui, sales manager of an N95 mask machine company in Dongguan city, southeastern Guangdong province.

“The profit of a mask now is at least several cents compared to less than one in the past.

“Printing 60,000 or 70,000 masks a day is equivalent to printing money.” Qi Guangtu has put more than 50 million yuan ($7 million) into his factory producing mask-making machines in the southern industrial hub of Dongguan.

It has been in 24-hour continuous production since Jan 25 — two days after the dramatic lockdown of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged.

“Cost recovery is certainly not a problem,” he said, adding that 70 sets of equipment have been sold for more than 500,000 yuan ($71,000) each. He has more than 200 additional orders in hand, worth over 100 million yuan ($14 million).

“The machines pay for themselves in 15 days, ” said Qi, saying the investment is worth it for his clients. Manufacturer You Lixin had never set foot in a mask factory before.

Published in Dawn, March 28th, 2020

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