COVID-19 sparks demand for surgical masks

Masks produced at Centre of Excellence at PSG Institute of Technology and Applied Research in Coimbatore on Tuesday.   | Photo Credit: M_PERIASAMY

With COVID-19 spreading globally, the demand for disposable masks is up, resulting in a spike in prices of raw materials and the products.

Units that make these masks, including those in Coimbatore, are running to full capacity and many here are looking at investing in machines and creating capacities.

The common surgical masks come as two-ply or three-ply masks. While the price before January 14 ranged between 68 paise to ₹ 3 a piece, it is now ₹6 to ₹18 a piece. “This is purely based on the supply and demand,” says chairman of Indian Technical Textiles Association (ITTA) K.S. Sundararaman.

The disposable mask makers are spread across the country converting the non-woven fabric into masks. These are mostly in the cottage and MSME sector. Given the spike in demand, many are now trying to invest in machinery to make the masks. “I do not think it is prudent to invest as the demand may be a short-lived one,” he says.

The mask worn by healthcare professionals, who are handling COVID-19 affected people, is a special N95 mask that is manufactured by a couple of large-scale companies in the country.

The regular masks are usually worn by those who travel and the people living in the affected areas as a safety measure. The government had banned export of masks and recently lifted the ban partially. While the regular masks can be exported, the N95 ones cannot be exported, explain industry sources.

China has the capacity to produce nearly 119 million pieces a day (regular masks) while the capacity in India is for two million pieces a day. China’s demand exceeds its capacity, points out a source in the technical textiles sector. Several south east Asian countries and others that have more COVID-19 cases are buying the regular masks in large quantities from different sources, including those in India. Hence, there is a huge demand for these now.

“There are orders for even one crore pieces from some buyers,” says G. Thilagavathi, Head of the Department of the Textile Technology Department at PSG Institute of Technology. The Institute has a mask making facility at its incubation centre at the Centre of Excellence for Industrial Textiles. A mask has two different kinds of non-woven fabrics and loops to tie. The cost of spun bond fabric has seen 22 % hike in the last one-and-a-half months, the cost of meltblown fabric is up 30 % to 400 % and the even the cost of the nose wires increased more than 900 %, she says.

The demand is huge, especially for bulk orders though the cost of the masks itself is up. Many ask for exports, she adds. “Currently, there is no shortage in availability of the raw materials.

The prices are up because of the demand,” adds Anup Rakshit, Executive Director of ITTA.

The trend of high demand will, however, depend on the impact of the virus and how long it will continue, he says.

Speaking about the domestic demand for the masks, Mr. Sundararaman points out that several sectors, such as textile mills, usually provides the regular masks to its workers as a protection. Even these sectors are finding it difficult to get the masks, and if available, the prices are high.

“The quantity in the market is sold. The shortage will come in the non-woven fabric segment if the demand continues,” he adds.

The other technical textiles product that has demand potential because of COVID-19 is a special type of coverall.

The fabric for this is mostly imported now and may see a requirement increase if the number of those affected increases, the sources add.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 2:11:55 AM |

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