Mask producers warn raw material shortage could hit supply

By Hoai Thu, Nguyen Ha   February 2, 2020 | 10:48 pm PT
Mask producers warn raw material shortage could hit supply
Employees manufacture masks in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Anh Minh.
Vietnamese face mask manufacturers are working overtime to meet the surging demand, but have problems importing raw materials from China.

Hanoi-based Dai Uy Pharmaceutical Jsc has doubled its capacity to 100,000 pieces a day by working 24-hour shifts even as many localities round the country report mask shortages.

Tanaphar too has been operating 24 hours a day to produce 60,000 masks a day.

Garment producer Dong Xuan Knitting Single Member Ltd, which was not making masks earlier, recently entered the industry by making 50,000 pieces a day, and can increase its capacity to 300,000 if needed, a spokesperson said.

Importers are also ordering more stocks. A company that imports 3M brand masks from the U.S. said its orders have risen to five times the normal number.

But the U.S. company has said it prioritizes China where masks are in larger demand, and so the Vietnamese importer’s requirements cannot be met in full.

"We only have enough inventory to supply regular customers and cannot accept new ones," a spokesperson for the importing company, who asked not to name the company, said.

But most manufacturers have expressed concern about sourcing feedstock since China, their largest supplier, has banned exports to meet its own needs.

A Tanaphar spokesperson said a medical mask has three main components: nonwoven fabric, antibacterial filter cloth and activated carbon.

Vietnamese manufacturers could produce the first item, but have to import the second and third, the spokesperson said.

The company is seeking to import filter cloth from India, but prices have jumped to $12 per kilogram.

The limited local supply of raw materials can only sustain production for another week to 10 days since demand has risen to 150 million units a month.

A Dai Uy Pharmaceutical spokesperson said filter cloth prices have been surging in mainland China and Taiwan and could rise further.

The company has only 200 kilograms left in stock, and needs another 500 kg to meet orders.

Ministry of Industry and Trade officials said 70 percent of filter cloth is imported from China, and the rest from other countries such as India, Malaysia, South Korea, Japan, France, and Italy.

With China banning exports of both raw materials and finished masks, sourcing them from elsewhere would be difficult, they said.

South Korea and Japan are facing a scarcity, while prices in European countries are high, they said.

Vietnamese manufacturers cannot buy more machines to expand production either since China has also halted exports of them too, they added.

Vietnam has 38 manufacturers of medical masks capable of making 1.24 million units a day, according to the ministry.

They are willing to sell the masks at cost to help combat the nCoV, it said.

Vietnam had eight confirmed cases of nCoV infection as of Monday morning, including three foreigners.

There are 92 suspected cases with symptoms like high fever and cough.

The epidemic has killed 362 people globally, one in the Philippines and the rest in China.

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