BEIJING — China is the world’s largest mask manufacturer, but it seems that masks are in short supply. Why?
China produced about 5 billion masks in 2019, accounting for half of the world’s output. It can produce up to 20 million masks per day.
As the epidemic broke out just before Spring Festival holiday, factories were all closed. Following a government directive, production capacity was back to 40 percent within a week.
It was back to 60 percent on Feb.2, and 94 percent on Feb.11, meaning the daily output of masks exceeded 20 million, equal to 240 masks a second.
Polypropylene is used to make masks. China’s annual output of the material is 950,000 tonnes, which translates to 200 billion masks.
These raw materials are largely sourced from state-owned enterprises (SOEs) such as Sinopec, PetroChina and CNOOC. To meet the needs, they produce 24 hours per day and commit not to raise prices.
Medical non-woven fabrics are also important for mask production. These factories, most of which are private ones, rarely store large quantities of raw materials during the Spring Festival. Workers also need to overcome difficulties to return to the factory amid coronavirus outbreak.
Masks should be sterilized and laid aside for at least 7 days after being made. It takes 2 to 4 days to transport the masks. And not all logistics companies are open for business.
The government has set up coordination mechanisms in major companies to help solve problems. SOEs take the lead in producing masks regardless of cost and keep original prices.
The government quickly issued policies to encourage more firms to switch to mask production, including tax reduction and financial support. From Jan.1 to Feb.7, more than 3,000 enterprises in China started to produce masks, protective suits, disinfectants, thermometers, and medical devices.
A company in Guangzhou transformed an electronic product quality inspection machine into a fully-automatic mask production machine. One of these machines can produce more than 150,000 masks per day.
Fujian province planned to produce 20 million masks per day. It is predicted that China can produce 180 million masks per day by the end of February.
Masks are highly marketable products across the world. In its own way, the Chinese government has swiftly boosted production during special times. This is how China combats the coronavirus.