Employees at the Shanghai factory where America’s 3M Co. makes its surgical masks in China are working overtime to meet skyrocketing demand for the protective product as the deadly Wuhan coronavirus spreads throughout Asia.
3M has run out of its stock of masks at both its factory and flagship stores in Tmall and Jingdong, Chinese news publication YiCai reported.
The spike in demand coincides with the week-long Lunar New Year when factories in China are usually closed. But the Wuhan government, in the wake of the outbreak, has urged all citizens to wear masks in public places. That’s helped drive demand so high that some factories and retail stores are offering employees up to five times their normal pay to ramp up mask production and sales, according to Chinese media reports translated by CBS News.
Protective gear from rubber gloves and goggles to hand sanitizers and thermometers also are in short supply at local stores and institutions. Surgical masks are so scarce that even hospitals are having trouble procuring the quantities they need, Reuters reported.
Cao Jun, general manager of mask manufacturer Lanhine, told Reuters his company’s clients are requesting 200 million masks per day — far more than its factory’s usual daily output of 400,000 masks.
Many Asian pharmacies and health supply stores have sold out of surgical face masks as officials work to contain the virusat last count.
Online retailers, including Alibaba-owned Taobao, and e-commerce site JD.com, the largest retailer in China, were sold out of 3M surgical masks Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. They retail platforms also vowed to crack down on those sellers that try to hike their prices.
Singapore’s Guardian pharmacy chain, which has about 115 locations in the island nation, said its mask sales quadrupled over the past two weeks, according to The Straits Times, an English-language publication based in Singapore. Hand sanitizer and thermometer sales also tripled over the same period, it said.
At least two locations of Watson’s, China’s biggest health and beauty chain, were sold out of surgical masks Monday, according to the same report.
An employee at a Beike Drug Store in Wuhan, where the virus is believed to have originated, said demand for the protective masks has surged since the viral outbreak. “Today we’ve sold out all the single-use masks, and I need to prepare for tomorrow’s supply,” the worker, who wasn’t identified, told Reuters.
Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific Airways on Tuesday said it would permit cabin crew to wear surgical masks while operating mainland China flights. The airline was also providing face masks and antiseptic wipes to passengers traveling from Wuhan to Hong Kong.
Rubber surgical gloves and protective goggles are also in high demand after one doctor who became infected said he didn’t wear goggles while treating patients. Dr. Wang Guangfa shared his story on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site.
Most Asian stock markets fell this week as investors worried that the outbreak’s rising death count would depress tourism and economic activity in China. But the stock prices of some companies that sell face masks and rubber gloves rose as public officials enforced safety precautions at airports and other high-traffic facilities.
Shares of Malaysia-based Top Glove Corp., the world’s largest maker of rubber gloves, rose, as did shares of Malaysia’s Hartalega Holdings, Kossan Rubber Industries and Supermax Corp.
In the U.S.,on Tuesday after the drugmaker said it is working on a vaccine for the Wuhan coronavirus.
— CBS News’ Grace Qi contributed to this report