Recent figures from the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that there are now more than 75,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19. First reported to have originated in Wuhan, China in December, the death toll from this coronavirus has reached more than 2,000 and the number is growing as cases are being reported outside China to as far as Europe. To contain the spread of the Covid-19 virus, factories and offices in certain parts of China were ordered temporarily closed, travel restrictions imposed, while big events like major trade shows were either cancelled or postponed to a later date.
The rush to contain the spread of the virus now relies on the medical sector with medical supplies - such as masks, gloves, protective clothing, and other medical devices - in high demand that some companies in China have shifted their production to meet the surging needs. In this situation, plastics and rubber have been used as important raw materials for medical supplies especially for protective clothes, medical masks, goggles, gloves, medical equipment, pharmaceutical packaging, and disinfectants. China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has announced the scope of medical emergency protection materials. Included in the list are coated spunbond, breathable film, meltblown non-woven fabric, PE /PC anti-fogging rolls and sheets, seals, zippers, antistatic agents and other important raw materials for producing medical protective clothes and masks; as well as plastic packaging materials such as plastic bottles (barrels) and labels.
Urgent measures gather industry support
Many companies engaged in plastics and rubber manufacturing have either donated money and supplies, while some opted to shift or raise their production to support the epidemic control measures.
For instance, the production of specialized masks such as N95 is now being ramped up to address the shortage. As of February 4, N95 masks production for medical protective purposes have reached around 600,000 a day, according to a news report. Medical staff have been wearing N95 respirators when exposed to confirmed cases to help lower the chance of the infection being transmitted to doctors or nurses. N95 respirator is usually comprised of several layers of material, with outer layers of spun-bond polypropylene, a layer of cellulose/polyester and another layer of melt-blown polypropylene filter material.
Demand for rubber gloves has also surged due to the coronavirus outbreak that created an awareness across the region on cross-contamination. Malaysia, which is currently the world's biggest producer and exporter of rubber gloves, is expected to post a 20% increase in export of this product in 2020, to reach 230 billion pieces. With increased orders, Malaysian manufacturers of rubber gloves are pushing production output.
A number of companies have also shifted their production focus to meet the demand for face masks. China is the world's biggest mask manufacturer but the present production capacity of nearly 20 million masks daily is not enough. Some auto manufacturers have shifted to masks production, such as the General Motors venture SAIC-GM-Wuling, that operates 14 production lines with target to produce 5 million masks by the end of February. Foxconn also started to produce masks in early February to supply its 1 million employees, with production expected to reach 2 million daily by the end of the month. China Petroleum & Chemical (Sinopec) has also acquired mask-making equipment to set up 11 production lines. Sinopec refineries are raising production of polypropylene and polyvinyl chloride, raw materials used for making masks, surgical garments and dripping bottles, following the coronavirus outbreak.
Many companies in the plastics and rubber industries have also been making their own contributions. To help fight the epidemic, specialty chemicals company LANXESS donated one ton of its highly effective Rely+On Virkon disinfectant to hospitals in Wuhan and two surrounding cities. The high level powder disinfectant is diluted with water and in this quantity is sufficient for 100,000 liters of disinfectant solution. The donation was already sent from the production plant in Sudbury, England, in the first week of February and arrived at the hospitals on February 16.
Independent tests have proven that Rely+On Virkon inactivates a closely related surrogate of the currently spreading coronavirus strain. From these tests it can be concluded that Rely+On Virkon is also effective against Covid-19. Rely+On Virkon is diluted for application and sprayed on hard surfaces and equipment. It can therefore help to reduce the risk of contamination of surfaces, door handles, tables or chairs during disinfection measures in hospitals, but also at public transport terminals, airports, shopping malls, etc.
DuPont, has donated three types of protective garments to the most affected areas through the China Red Cross Foundation to protect healthcare workers and front-line personnel. DuPont is also contributing probiotic products to help regulate and improve immunity. These donated materials are allocated by the China Red Cross Foundation to the most needed areas. The DuPont China response team is coordinating directly with the key agencies in China such as CDC, FDA, Shanghai Medicine Group, Ministry of Industrial Information Technology and the U.S. Embassy to ensure that needed protective equipment are sent directly to the healthcare workers on the front line. The company has also increased production capacity for protective garments in its manufacturing facilities outside of China, and working with the government to import and distribute them in China.
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