Chinese mask makers see rising inquiries amid Biden’s national plan to fight COVID-19
US rules may have domino effect on countries
Published: Jan 22, 2021 07:28 PM

A worker checks the quality of ordered masks at a mask factory in Huaibei, East China's Anhui Province, April 17, 2020. Photo: cnsphoto

Chinese personal protective equipment makers say they've seen a rise in mask inquiries from the US since January and are "more than ready" to supply US demand amid the Biden administration's "serious fight" against COVID-19.

The number of inquiries from the US in January has doubled since December, including some with firm buying intentions worth 10 million yuan ($1.54 million), equal to the 2020 total, Huang Yuhao, president of Health Box in East China's Anhui Province, a domestic mask producer, told the Global Times.

The rise in US demand comes as US President Joe Biden starts to take more effective measures to curb the virus. Total deaths from the coronavirus pandemic in the US will probably top 500,000 next month, Biden warned Thursday.

Biden also signed 10 executive orders on his first full day in office to combat the COVID-19 epidemic, mandating mask wearing in all public transportation and directing agencies to use wartime powers to require US companies to make N95 masks, swabs and other equipment.

The US mask-wearing policy comes at a particularly late stage, but better late than never, analysts said, warning that the US still has a long way to go to strengthen its public "education" on epidemic prevention measures.

"The policy has come at a time when the coronavirus in the US has already advanced into a very serious phase," He Weiwen, a former senior trade official and an executive council member of the China Society for World Trade Organization Studies, told the Global Times on Friday.

"It's still unknown whether people in the US will 'buy' the policy, but executive orders will always come with penalties, which means people will be 'forced' to follow the rules," He said.

"The effect of the policy also remains unknown," He added.

The rise in PPE orders was "a sharp contrast" to last year, Huang said, adding that US businesses' orders in 2020 were only worth 10 million yuan, with the company's mask trade reaching about 1 billion yuan.

Huang said US traders last year would stop cooperation "as soon as they heard that you did not have FDA export certification," but the current situation is different. "They are even willing to help us apply for FDA export certification so that they can get the goods."

Zhang Wen, manager of a mask export agency in Wuxi, East China's Jiangsu Province, told the Global Times on Friday that it has also seen a "slight rise" in inquiries from US customers in recent days.

Zhang said he observed that in general, due to the lack of anti-epidemic knowledge, many people in the US still wear cotton masks which don't have the same protection against COVID-19 as others, predicting a "large demand potential."

"We expect more orders will come in," Zhang said, noting that as soon as the world's largest economy starts to "seriously fight the pandemic," others will follow.

China has provided the US with more than 42 billion masks, equal to providing nearly 127 for per person, over 900 million gloves, 780 million protective outfits, 50.66 million goggles and 15,905 ventilators since March 2020, Hua Chunying, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry told a press conference on Thursday.

"We've done our best to provide support and help to the American people," Hua said.

Huang said his firm's production ability is also "very ready" to serve the rise in US demand. It can produce 5 million high-end KN95 and N95 masks that meet EU certification every day.

"We still really value the US market, and hope to do business with the US. We have faith that the new US government will treat China's epidemic material suppliers with a more objective attitude, unlike its predecessor," said Huang. 

Zhang also complained that he still thinks the US certification process is slow and shows no signs of improving soon, adding that although supplying the US market would be a bonus, China's major mask producers are already busy enough with orders lined up to June this year.

From March to the end of 2020, China exported 224.2 billion masks, representing 30 percent of all mask exports, equal to providing nearly 40 masks for everyone in the world outside of China, Customs data showed.

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