(Yicai Global) March 3 -- China, the world's biggest producer of face masks, can help ease the global shortage as the spread of the novel coronavirus epidemic ramps up demand for the protective gear.
Face masks have been out of stock in some European cities since early last month. Dentists in the US, Japan, the UK and Australia say they are facing a serious dearth of masks.
The US is facing a shortfall of over 200 million, Alex M. Azar II, US secretary of health and human services, said at a recent senate session. At present, the country has just 12 million N95 masks, which have a filtering efficiency of 95 percent. Medical staff may need 300 million, he said.
Yet China's many mask makers in the Yangtze River Delta are now only fulfilling domestic orders when once they were exporters.
"All exports have been cancelled," Yicai Global was told on a visit to these factories.
Accounting for around half of the world's mask supply, China has been cranking up output ever since the epidemic broke out in December. Daily production capacity has now topped 100 million, the country's top economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission, said yesterday.
At the beginning of the outbreak, many nations donated protective gear to China. Therefore, considering China's key position in the global supply chain, the country should, within its abilities, provide some countries with aid and try to maintain normal export volumes of raw materials and finished products.
Raw Material Shortages
The surge in demand has also put pressure on raw materials. Masks and surgical gowns are made from high-end non-woven fabrics which block the spread of droplets and help to filter bacteria. These in turn are made from polypropylene resins.
China is one of the world's major exporters of these raw materials. In 2018, it produced 53,500 tons of melt-blown fabric. The material is also used to make clothing, battery diaphragms, cleansing materials and other products.
However, this specialist fabric is in short supply as expanding production capacity takes time. Some businesses in other industries, such as China Petrochemical, better known as Sinopec, have stepped in to fill the breach.
The Beijing-based conglomerate will invest CNY200 million (USD28.7 million) to build 10 melt-blown fabric production lines in Beijing and Yizheng city in eastern Jiangsu province to help overcome the shortage, the state oil major said on Feb. 24.
The production lines in Beijing's Yanshan district will have a daily output of four tons of nonwoven fabric for N95 masks and six tons of fabric for surgical masks. At 300,000 pieces a ton, this will be enough to produce 1.2 million N95 masks a day, or at one million pieces for every six tons of material, this can produce six million surgical masks each day. Production should begin from March 8, according to Sinopec Yanshan Petrochemical.
The Yizheng plant will produce eight tons of melt-blown fabric for N95 masks a day or 12 tons of material for surgical masks. This will enable a daily output of 2.4 million N95 masks or 12 million surgical masks. Production should start from the middle of next month, according to Sinopec Yizheng Chemical Fiber.
Subsidiary Sinopec Shanghai Petrochemical has also successfully transformed its equipment to produce the materials needed by nonwoven fabric makers, helping to increase the output of medical masks by nearly six million pieces each day.
Editors: Xu Wei, Kim Taylor