Makers of N95 Respirators in a Fix
USAGE OF MASKS RISES
New Delhi: Indian manufacturers of N95 respirator masks are in a bind, with the government banning exports anticipating a rise in demand due to the coronavirus scare. There are only two companies in India that manufacture these N95 respirators that have largely been exported for industrial usage to countries in Europe, the Middle East and the US for the last 20-25 years.
Today, people are using these as a preventive measure against the virus that is quickly spreading in China and has also reached more than two dozen countries. But the prospects of Venus Safety and Magnum Medicare to cash in on the opportunity has been stumped by India’s decision to ban their shipments. Everyone doesn’t need to join the craze to hoard the masks as a protective gear, said Mahesh Kudav, managing director of Venus Safety & Health, India’s top selling firm in personal protective equipment.
“People who need masks are the healthcare workers who are being coughed on by patients and people who are in close proximity to patients. The N95 masks originally are used by people working in industrial sectors like automobiles, factories, roads and hence there is no need for everyone to wear it,” said Kudav. These masks are designed to prevent small particles from entering the nose and mouth.
As the coronavirus outbreak started to spread in China, the Indian government put a ban on the exports of persodry.
PTI nal protective equipment including surgical masks, gloves and N95 respirators. However, on February 8, it lifted the restriction on gloves and surgical masks, but continued with the ban on N95 respirators that has left the manufacturers in a quandary.
“We don’t want to live in that world where everyone should wear a mask. General public do not need to wear these masks. At the most, traffic cops, municipal workers working on the street and may be an autorickshaw driver need these masks,” Kudav told ET.
For general public, surgical masks or even a handkerchief folded in three layers is good enough, he said.
Magnum Medicare director Rakesh Bhagat said the government decision to put restrictions on the shipment of these masks had left the company high and “To be able to get export orders, we spend a lot of money participating in exhibitions, etc., and we are suffering because of the government’s decision. These masks are good for chemical and petroleum sectors and hence banning their export doesn’t help anyone.”
On February 5, the Safety Appliances Manufacturers Association urged the government to lift the prohibition order. While the government did lift it for surgical masks, disposable masks and gloves, the N95 is still on the list of prohibited items.
“There were export commitments made prior to the coronavirus outbreak and export orders received from corporate headquarters of international MNCs based in India for their various locations, since China has stopped supplying or is in the spring holiday season,” the association said in the letter, a copy of which ET has seen.
The export-driven business is struggling due to the ban, Kudav said, adding: “Industry is our regular customer, and we do 65-70% export.”
Ever since China informed the world about the outbreak, the government has procured only 2.5 lakh masks with a ventilated valve which may be required in case the virus turns into a public health emergency here. “In India, we have never got repeat orders and not even this time,” said Kudav.
There is no doubt that it’s boom time for mask manufacturers — prices have spiked on ecommerce platforms. N95 respirators, which otherwise cost ₹40-180 depending on the features, have become a lot more expensive.