Masks are essential in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and for medical workers treating patients potentially infected with the virus. In response to the outbreak, about 30 Taiwanese companies in the machinery sector have been working with three government-funded research institutes to build 60 new production lines for mask equipment and machines. They are expected to churn out 6 million additional masks per day when they come online.
Once the 60 production lines begin operating on March 9, Taiwan would be making a total of 10 million face masks per day, the Ministry of Economic Affairs said. However, due to rising infections around the world and in preparation for a possible community spread in Taiwan, the ministry is planning to build another 30 production lines to make 2 million to 3 million more masks per day.
Increasing mask production quickly will not be easy, as the local mask industry is not very profitable and most manufacturers relocated elsewhere in the world more than 20 years ago. Now, China is one of the world’s top producers of medical masks and other protective gear.
Yet as the epidemic causes a huge increase in mask demand while global supplies are shrinking, Taiwan is left with no option but to produce masks domestically and implement measures such as an export ban and rationing to ensure that everyone has access to masks.
While the relatively small number of companies that make masks in Taiwan have expanded production, the government’s urgent demand for 60 additional mask production lines was made possible by the so-called “national team” composed of about 30 machinery makers and three research institutes. Their efforts shortened the half-year delivery schedule to just one month. Even more valuable is that those companies, which have spent decades competing against each other, are collaborating to achieve one goal that might not be profitable at all.
Second, the “national team” companies are prioritizing the construction of mask production lines, which means that exports from their core business are likely to be delayed and they would have to negotiate production capacity with customers, even though that could lead to consumer complaints and revenue losses.
The collaboration between the government and local manufacturers on mask production is a model that could be used in future endeavors. Doing so could help boost production during a shortage of something else or prevent hoarding by customers who fear a shortage. Similar cooperation was seen when developers created applications showing mask sales restricted to National Health Insurance-contracted pharmacies and major convenience store chains, and state-run Chunghwa Post Co was assigned to deliver them to contracted pharmacies nationwide. All these efforts reflect the planning done by government agencies and the teamwork between the public and private sectors.
The government is hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, and so far it has worked. While it is clear that fewer people are lining up for masks, the government still needs to closely monitor supply and demand to ensure there is sufficient supply, especially for those in health facilities. The nation must also review its strategic stockpiles of medical equipment, including masks and other protective gear, in preparation for any possible public health emergencies.
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