Across Asia, countries race to boost face mask supplies
ICHEON, South Korea: At a face mask factory just outside the South Korean capital of Seoul, workers are churning out 300,000 masks a day - and it’s still not enough.
Last year the Icheon Production Centre CNTUS-Sungjin Co. Ltd. manufactured 30 million face masks. Amid this year’s coronavirus outbreak, it has produced 19 million in January and February alone.
“We are assuming we will run out of materials in 20 days,” said Kim Kyung-sig, who heads the centre.
Across Asia, the spread of the coronavirus has sparked a run on masks in the hardest hit countries, as well as among those afraid that they could be next.
Some governments, like those in Australia and Singapore, have urged their citizens not to buy or wear the masks unless they are sick.
Other countries, like South Korea, have launched public information campaigns to encourage everyone to wear masks.
Kim estimates that manufacturers in South Korea can produce just around 10 million masks a day combined, in a country of 50 million people.
Conflicting messages have sowed confusion over how to protect against an epidemic that has claimed over 3,000 lives in China and spread to several dozen countries, with some experts saying wrong handling of masks could even increase infection risk.
Regardless of government policies, however, there has been widespread reports of masks selling out, with even some hospitals struggling to procure enough for their staff.
In South Korea - which has seen the largest outbreak outside of China, with 6,284 infections and 42 deaths - the government has imposed export restrictions on masks and urged factories to increase production.
Masks made at the CNTUS-Sungjin centre have increased in wholesale price from 650 won ($.55) to 1,100 won ($.93). – Reuters