Face mask shortage: The only way out is producing more locally

February 26, 2020 11:04
With the coronavirus spreading to several countries, the world is confronted with a worsening shortage of protective face masks. Photo: Reuters

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to spread beyond China, several countries around the world are taking a hit, with Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran among the biggest victims.

With fears mounting over the deadly epidemic and people scrambling for protective gear, one thing is for certain: a global shortage of face masks, which we already witnessing, will intensify in the near term.

In Hong Kong, where the city's leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has admitted recently that the government’s efforts to procure surgical masks on the global market have not been very successful, the difficulties in securing mask supplies will only increase in the coming days.

So, what can we do to overcome the problem?

As the coronavirus becomes a global issue, there is no doubt that protective face coverings will be increasingly hard to come by on the world market.

Given the situation, the only means by which Hong Kong can save itself is through local production of the protective items. What the government needs to do is this: play a proactive and leading role and help civilian entrepreneurs in establishing face mask production lines on Hong Kong soil.

Moreover, the administration should legislate against the export of the locally-made face masks, as well as put in place regulations against price hikes.

The recent success of the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions in setting up a local factory to produce face masks makes for a good and inspiring example.

However, it is estimated that by the time the plant will be up and running in late March, it can only turn out some 100,000 pieces at the very most per day, an output that is no more than a drop in the ocean given the demand.

According to recent opinion polls, an overwhelming majority of Hong Kong citizens are unhappy with the government’s performance in relation to the fight against the novel coronavirus.

Even so, we believe it is still not too late for the administration to redeem itself if it manages to facilitate the mass production of face masks in Hong Kong through the HK$30 billion disease prevention and relief fund.

Hong Kong is lagging far behind its neighbors when it comes to producing face masks for the citizens. But it is never too late to start catching up.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 25

Translation by Alan Lee 

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal