Out of stock or extended lead times: manufacturers of protective masks and their sellers are struggling to keep up with a demand that explodes in the midst of psychosis around the Covid-19 epidemic.
The new coronavirus now affects dozens of countries where it has infected around 80,000 people. Assessment: at the time of fears facing a potentially very contagious epidemic, panic reigns and suppliers of masks are working hard.
“There is a strong increase in global demand for products ranging from 5 to 60 times up to 100 times the normal level, driven by panic purchases, storage, speculation”, told AFP Fadela Chaib, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization (WHO).
Since production is not keeping pace, there is a shortage. “Global stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) are already insufficient to meet the current needs of WHO and its partners, and countries requesting new equipment face a wait of 4 to 6 months to receive PPE such as surgical masks, gloves, and gowns, “adds Ms. Chaib.
French Minister of Health Olivier Veran said Wednesday that he “has decided to destock 15 million anti-splash masks” in stocks established by the State so that they are distributed in pharmacies and hospitals to health professionals and “at-risk” people.
And the demand is not limited to these surgical masks, useful for avoiding splashes and not for protecting oneself from contamination.
For FFP2 type respiratory protection masks, used in particular in industry, supplies are also under tension. The French government announced this week that it will order millions of copies.
“We declined many requests that we could not provide,” said AFP Jerome Friedrich, director of the French subsidiary of the American group Moldex, which notably produces FFP2 masks. Moldex is trying to increase the production capacity of its factories, specifies the manager.
To add to the supply difficulties, China, the epicenter of the epidemic, is itself the main producer of masks in the world. “”About 50% of surgical masks are made in China,” said Ms. Chaib. As a result, “the epidemic has disrupted their production and supply systems,” she said.
– Priority to caregivers –
To meet the huge Chinese need for masks, various manufacturers have entered this niche, including the Taiwanese Foxconn, which has started producing masks at its factory in Shenzhen, China. In this country, mask manufacturers were encouraged to keep their production for the local market.
“We have a factory of 150 people in China. Our protective equipment products could no longer be exported, with priority to the Chinese market,” said David Guiho, marketing director of the French group Delta Plus, an equipment specialist. for industry.
The effort seems to have focused: “”We can produce more than 54 million protective masks every day,” said Chinese Ambassador to France Lu Shaye during an interview on BFMTV on Tuesday.
Is this still enough? “We have other factories which can manufacture them, but that is not enough to meet the demand which continues to increase on the European part”, comments Mr. Guiho. “All the manufacturers are trying to increase their production”.
This exponential demand can be a boon for manufacturers. The price of some PPE “has increased considerably,” says Ms. Chaib.
The young French shoot R-Pur, which develops masks originally intended for cyclists, says it has doubled its exports to China. “People are turning to those who still have products in stock,” said Matthieu Lecuyer, its co-founder, to AFP.
For its part, WHO requests “that PPE supplies be prioritized for use by health workers”, on the front line of the epidemic.
“Before using masks, you must above all apply very strict hygiene rules. This is what we relay to distributors,” recalls Mr. Guiho.