Coronavirus outbreak: China falls short of N95 masks, seeks India’s help

The demand for N95 masks have shot up in the domestic market and the prices too have risen by 50-80 per cent in the retail market.

People wear masks at a metro station in Taipei, Taiwan | PTI

China is facing a shortage of anti-bacterial masks and other medical devices following the deadly coronavirus outbreak and is now turning to India for help.

Chinese firms are reaching out to big suppliers in India and China-bound travellers and Chinese people living in India are sourcing it from retail medical outlets to be sent to their near and dear ones in China.

The demand for N95 masks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved particulate filtering respirators that can filter 95 per cent of airborne particles, have shot up in the domestic market. The prices too have risen by 50-80 per cent in the retail market.

Reportedly, several medical outlets in cities like Bengaluru, Chennai ,and Mumbai are facing a shortage of N95 masks.

A member of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in Bengaluru said they had dispatched about 2.30 lakh masks to China so far and placed order for 1.3 million more masks from other leading suppliers in India.

“Not just masks, we placed orders for devices and protection clothes from suppliers like 3M, Dupont and Honeywell. We procure from the suppliers direct and not through the retail market,” said the member of Chinese Chamber of commerce on condition of anonymity. They feared that the local suppliers would jack up prices if they knew of the situation.

“We notice that a lot of fake ones are available in the market and hence we do not want to compromise on quality during critical times. The prices have already doubled and we do not want it to go up further,” the member added.

In the retail market, the N95 masks which otherwise cost Rs.100-150 are now being sold at ₹180-250.

Xu Yajiang, a China-bound traveller from Mumbai, who along with her two friends are taking close to 750 pieces to China, said, it had become difficult to procure the masks in their country and people had to wait in queue for hours to get the masks. “The cost too had increased to 30-50RMB (Rs.300-500) in China,” Yajiang said.

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Meanwhile, Indian manufacturers are wary of the sudden demand and are not willing to increase production based on current market demand, to avoid losses.

Speaking to The Federal, J Jayaseelan, Chairman of Indian Drug Manufacturers Association, said, the demand was led by actual need and also because of fear psychosis. He says India will not be able to cater to the export demand from China.

“For a supplier who manufactured these masks in 1000s, suddenly the requirement now is in lakhs. These masks are manufactured in limited quantity in India and raw materials are not readily available. And hence we (manufacturers) have decided to produce more only upon pre-orders and 100% advance money,” Jayaseelan said.

As many as 170 people died due to the outbreak, over 1,700 suspected cases are reported in China alone. India reported its first case in Kerala on Thursday (January 30). The patient, a student of the Wuhan University is kept in isolation at a hospital, the health ministry noted.

Are N95 masks helpful?

The coronavirus transmits from person to person, particularly from the family members of those infected, or medical workers attending to them, via particles in the air from coughing or sneezing.

While masks aren’t foolproof, a 2008 study found that those who used masks were 80% less likely to get infected.

Vijendra B.K., Chief Health Officer at Bengaluru corporation, said the N95 masks were certainly helpful as they in some way contained the spread of the virus. He suggested use of the regular disposable masks in twos or threes if N95 masks were not available in the market.

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