For Trump to meet mask promise, he has to turn toward China: expert

By Yin Yeping Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/19 22:13:40

Trump can’t fulfill promise of face masks without Chinese factories

Three women wearing face masks shop in a supermarket in San Francisco, the US on March 9. Photo: CNS photo

For US to come up with 500 million face masks, the Trump administration will have to come to China, or it will be difficult to meet the soaring demands from its citizens fearing coronavirus, even after invoking the Defense Production Act, industry insiders said.

US President Donald Trump announced his decision to invoke the act that gives the federal government broad authority to require companies to prioritize government contracts, with the goal of ensuring that the private sector is producing adequate goods needed to meet national emergency.

"We have tremendous numbers of ventilators, but there's never been an instance like this where no matter what you have it's not enough," Trump said at a press conference.

However, industry insiders believe that even after Trump invoked the act, it would be difficult for the government to solicit enough medical items particularly face masks in such a huge volume on short notice without asking for support from China.

"China produces half of the world's medical supplies including masks, with production capacity of tens of millions of pieces a day," Chen Hongyan, secretary-general of the Medical Appliances Branch of the China Medical Pharmaceutical Material Association, said.

"Before the coronavirus outbreak, China produced half of the world's masks. After the pandemic strike, production has increased nearly 12 times," said Chen. "Since the end of February, the production of medical masks has been adequate to meet demand across China."

Trump said that his administration has ordered 500 million N95 face masks to combat the coronavirus outbreak after complaints from health-care providers of shortages.

However, the production capacity in the US is inadequate because the world's factories for making masks are in China. Lydia Lu, an employee with Honeywell, told the Global Times on Thursday that Honeywell has many contracted Chinese factories in China that produces masks for it, and company's only mask factory in the world is in Nantong, East China's Jiangsu Province.

"We are planning to build a mask factory in the US, but it is just a plan, and we haven't started its construction yet," Lu said.

China can produce 48 million N95 masks per month, surpassing the US company 3M's contract with the US for 35 million masks per month, US site Politico reported.

Meanwhile, as factories gradually resume, the daily output of protective suits in China surged to 500,000, N95 masks to 1.6 million and surgical masks to 100 million, Wang Jiangping, vice minister of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said earlier.

A report that BYD Auto sent to the Global Times suggested that the number of masks produced by the Chinese carmaker is increasing by 300,000 to 500,000 pieces per day. Now, the company has the capacity to make 5 million masks a day, which is equivalent to one-quarter of the previous national capacity, becoming the world's largest mask maker.

While Chinese suppliers have managed to ramp up capacity, American companies are struggling to keep up with soaring demand for products.

Mike Bowen, executive vice president and partner of Prestige Ameritech, the nation's largest surgical mask manufacturer, said that it is a "madhouse" and the company is going as fast as it can, CBS News reported, citing Bowen's concerns on February 26.

Bowen's Texas company, which makes face masks and respirators to protect against germs and filter air, typically has to pitch its products to hospitals and caregivers. 

"The raw materials for making masks such as melt-sprayed and non-woven fabric are produced by China, and it would also take time to find relevant technical workers in a short time, let alone the cost of labor is very high in the US," Chen said.

Newspaper headline: Trump can’t fulfill promise of face masks without Chinese factories


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