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Workers make face masks at a factory in Handan, Hebei province. Photo: EPA-EFE

Coronavirus: China revives output of medical supplies but shortages persist on front line

  • Ministry official says 60-70 per cent of factories that make needed items have resumed production after Lunar New Year break
  • Supply and demand are becoming ‘more stable and balanced’, he says
Authorities have boosted production of medical supplies to ease an acute shortage in central China’s Hubei province, ground zero of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

But more time was needed for production to reach full capacity, said a senior official in charge of medical support in the battle against the fast-spreading virus.

In Beijing on Monday, Tian Yulong, chief engineer for the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said 60 to 70 per cent of factories that made the essential medical goods had resumed output after the Lunar New Year break.
“Hubei, an important medical goods production base, has quickly resumed production capacity, especially for medical protection suits and protective goggles, and that has greatly relieved the shortage of medical supplies for our frontline staff,” Tian said.

“Now the whole country has been mobilised and the industrial system is recovering. [The demand and supply] has become more stable and balanced.”

The coronavirus outbreak that first started in Wuhan, and quickly spread through the rest of the country, has left city medical staff not only overworked but at risk of infection because of a lack of protective gear.

A number of hospitals in Wuhan appealed to the public to donate supplies when some doctors said they were running out of protective suits.

When doctors at Hankou Hospital in the city found themselves without goggles, they shielded themselves with blank CAT scan film. In Xinshe, in the eastern province of Jiangxi, an appeal went out to the public for transparent plastic folders that could be made into makeshift goggles.

By Sunday, the ministry had sent 133,600 N95 masks and 154,500 protective suits to Hubei, 10 days after the province had appealed to the central government for help meeting its need for supplies, including 100,000 protective suits a day.

All residents of China were urged to wear face masks after the outbreak intensified in mid-January. But masks soon were in short supply both at online stores and in pharmacies.

Although China boasted the world’s biggest capacity to make masks – up to 20 million a day – a shortfall in production of N95 respirators and surgical masks has persisted because of the Lunar New Year break, according to Tian.

China tweaks authority over medical mask supply amid shortage

Lian Weiliang, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission, which has taken mask production oversight responsibilities away from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, said the commission had begun to double production of N95 respirators.

“We prepared raw materials and increased production and supplies. Many companies worried about overproduction, but we told them to organise production to full capacity because the government will keep the surplus as reserve items when the outbreak is over,” Lian said.

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