Selling like face masks

By: Malou Guanzon Apalisok February 09,2020 - 01:57 PM


What is the hottest commodity item in the world today that has suppliers and manufacturers from across mainland China, North America, Europe, Turkey, and other parts of the world scrambling for new equipment and production supplies in order to cope with unprecedented demands in the hundreds of millions in weekly deliveries?

The answer is the surgical mask or face mask needed by hospital staff and health workers as basic infection control measure against the dreaded novel coronavirus (n-CoV). The record-breaking demand has pitted medical workers with the rest of the general population who, according to health experts, need not wear one unless they’re in close contact with people infected by the virus.

Experts say there is no conclusive evidence that face masks are effective in protecting the wearer against n-CoV. They advise that frequent washing of hands and using alcohol and hand sanitizer are effective measures, but not even China’s communist government can control its own citizen against using one.

Surgical masks have been flying off the shelves after the novel coronavirus was discovered in Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the 2019 n-Cov. The idiom “selling like hotcakes” no longer applies to the current situation because China’s demand for surgical masks does not evoke a sunny neighborhood or community setting that people in the west imagine when they crave for hotcakes during summer break.

Instead, the surge in demand is against the context of a deathly setting where medical workers cope with unprecedented number of coronavirus patients, some lying and dying in hospital floors.

In the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak, Wuhan hospitals needed 500,000 pieces of face masks but as cases of infection increased, the hospital required double that number because hospital frontliners needed to change masks every four hours.

The question is, how will China in general and Wuhan in particular, secure such a huge supply when manufacturers around China have seen outputs falling below targets after the global health emergency?

A report by the BBC said that there are 500,000 hospital staff in Hubei province alone. Assuming they would need to change face masks 4 times a day, that is 2 million masks daily. Moreover, the Chinese government has also directed workers in the transportation sector to wear masks, including those in the hospitality sectors like restaurants and hotels.

The demand is mind boggling given that China is the world’s largest producer of face masks. Now, it is asking the US, Canada, France, UK, Turkey, even Iran to send planeloads of face masks.

The Chinese government has also directed more than half a million state workers manning the public transport system to use masks. Since this vital public utility operates 24 hours a day, it is not hard to imagine they will also demand a steady of supply of face mask. Even minus a government edict, people in mainland China no longer leave home without using one.

In the Philippines, one of the biggest manufacturers is Med Tecs based in the Freeport Area of Bataan. The company figured in the news late last month after it shipped more than 3 million face masks to Wuhan, apparently an emergency operation that needed the intercession of Senator Richard Gordon to facilitate the shipment without delay. Because the huge delivery to China happened as local supply became scarce, Senator Gordon was bashed online.

I understand a company called Medtex Corporation, a consortium of Filipino, US, Taiwanese and British manufacturers also based in Bataan Freeport has pledged to supply 2 million face masks a month. That kind of supply won’t even last one hour in the race for face masks in the open market by hospitals, drugstores, supermarkets in the province of Bataan alone that’s why Pinoys are tapping into their creative juices to meet their own requirement.

One of the earliest innovations that came out is punching a hole and tying a garter on both ends of a sanitary napkin. I’m sure there will be endless discussions about its effectivity but the clincher would be if the napkin can give the wearer a sense of security. The novel idea came out on Facebook with a matching a man wearing one and a rather gross caption that sent many netizens in stitches./dbs

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TAGS: Bataan, China, Face masks, novel coronavirus, surgical masks, Wuhan

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