The surgical mask has become a symbol of solidarity and struggle in the fight against COVID-19. The drastic surge in demand for masks wiped out initial stock, and drove their value to near astronomical levels.
It’s created a unique opportunity for Chinese businesses looking to recover from months of losses. Manufacturers of everything from e-cigarettes to blockchain hardware have sprung into action, attempting to purchase the supplies, machinery and permits necessary to enter the mask-making business.
Some managers report that a single mask making machine costing between one and two hundred thousand RMB ($14,000-$28,000 USD) can produce enough masks to cover its cost in 2 or 3 days. Manufacturers can earn more than 30 million RMB from a single order – 15 upfront and 15 upon delivery, but competition for raw materials remains fierce, and some managers worry whether they will be able to deliver their product on time.
China’s government has taken steps to ensure the availability of masks for its people. In the past two months, six state-owned defense companies have switched production to anti-pandemic gear. Most recently, CCTV reported that the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) had used fighter jet design technology to create the first fully-automated mask machine prototype, capable of producing 100 masks a minute for 24 hours straight.
Those tireless efforts have helped contain the virus in China, but countries like Italy, Iran and the United States have been struggling to provide care and protective gear for growing numbers of infected patients. Against that backdrop, Alibaba Founder Jack Ma has become something of an individual champion in the global effort against the virus.
From Hangzhou via Liege to Rome – medical supplies have reached their final destination and been handed over to the Italian Red Cross. Big thanks to everyone, and more masks and test kits are on the way. Let’s move faster than this virus. Vinceremo! pic.twitter.com/qmbFFBXIS3
— Jack Ma Foundation (@foundation_ma) March 17, 2020
Ma pledged to fund immunization and vaccination efforts in Australia and has sent hundreds of thousands of masks, test kits and other medical supplies to the US, Italy, Spain and all 54 African countries. Ma has expressed that this will be an ongoing commitment to the global community, but hopefully it will set an example for other billionaires to step up as the crisis worsens in their own home countries.
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