JAKARTA: Surgical mask manufacturers in Indonesia are ramping up production to cope with rising demand as the country reported its first two cases of COVID-19, but they may soon face a shortage of raw materials.
Indonesian Medical Equipment Association’s executive director Ahyahudin Sodri told CNA that there are seven major surgical mask manufacturers in Indonesia. “These companies have increased their production output by 50 to 70 per cent,” he said.
However, despite so, the manufacturers are still struggling to meet demand, which according to Mr Sodri has increased “by more than 100 per cent”.
They are also overwhelmed by demand from other countries looking to source their surgical masks from Indonesia.
“We have turned down some of the overseas orders, because we are focusing on meeting domestic demand,” Mr Sodri said.
The Indonesian manufacturers are also bracing for a shortage of raw materials, which are mainly imported from China, the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Mr Billy Hidjaja, whose company PT Hadtex produces the polyester cloths needed to make the surgical masks, said China is cutting down on its export to other countries, including Indonesia, to focus on meeting their own domestic demand.
“Sixty per cent of the raw material comes from China,” Mr Hidjaja told CNBC Indonesia, adding that the materials the company has in stock right now is only sufficient for the next few months.
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State Owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir said the government is trying to look for alternatives after China’s export cutback.
“There is the alternative of buying (raw materials) from Europe. But of course… if we have to buy from Europe, (mask) wouldn’t cost 2,000 rupiah each (US$0.14),” he told Indonesian media.
The minister said with the current supply of raw materials, manufacturers should have enough to produce 7.2 million surgical masks.
MASKS IN SHORT SUPPLY
Mdm Lusy Noviani, secretary-general of the Indonesian Apothecary Association said many pharmacies have sold out their stock of surgical masks since Indonesia reported its first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Monday.
“People have been flocking to pharmacies to stock up on surgical masks. It has since become increasingly hard to find surgical masks,” she told CNA.
“Hand sanitisers are relatively easier to find because one bottle can last for weeks so people don’t stockpile them, unlike masks which get disposed after use.”
Mdm Noviani said pharmacies have begun rationing surgical masks and imposing a limit of two to five masks per customer.
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Over at state-owned pharmacy chain Kimia Farma, each person can only buy two surgical masks.
“Our supply of surgical masks is around 215,000 pieces,” Kimia Farma president director Mr Verdi Budidarmo was quoted as saying by Kompas, adding that the supply is spread throughout the chain’s 1,300 outlets.
Mr Budidarmo said as a state-owned company, Kimia Farma will continue to sell the masks at an affordable 2,000 rupiah each despite the shortage.
The company, he said, is ordering millions of surgical masks to replenish its dwindling supply.
The surging demand has caused the price of surgical masks to skyrocket with some retailers selling their masks four to eight times their normal prices. On online platforms, the prices even fetched up to ten times more than what it used to be before the first two cases were announced.
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A customer, who only wished to be known as Mdm Nursita, said she has visited ten different pharmacies and retailers looking for surgical masks but they had all run out of stock.
“I tried going to Kimia Farma but there was a long queue and you can only buy two, which is not enough since I am buying for the whole family,” the 47-year-old told CNA.
Responding to the shortage, Trade Minister Agus Suparmanto said the government is urging manufacturers to prioritise domestic needs for surgical masks but stopped short of saying that there would be a ban on the export of surgical masks from Indonesia.
“We are urging producers to step up production and fulfil domestic needs first,” he told Indonesian media.
Mr Muhammad Rio, 41, said he had no choice but to buy online, even though the price has been marked up five-fold.
“My daughter is sick and I don’t want her to infect her siblings,” the father of three told CNA. “Those who stockpile are hurting other people who really need surgical masks.”
Mdm Noviani of the Indonesian Apothecary Association said the shortage could also hurt hospital workers who need to protect themselves.
“There are also those who desperately need masks, like those affected by the Mount Merapi eruption,” she said, referring to volcanic eruption in Central Java on Tuesday where the volatile volcano spewed a towering cloud of ash 6km high into the sky, blanketing nearby villages with grey dust.
CRACKING DOWN ON PEOPLE WHO STOCKPILE
Police this week launched a nationwide raid on people stockpiling surgical masks and reselling them at a marked up price.
Senior Commissioner Yusri Yunus, spokesman for the Jakarta Metro Police, said police officers have arrested 22 people as of Thursday.
“We have raided several places suspected of stockpiling masks,” he told CNA.
Commissioner Yunus said the police confiscated 17,500 pieces of mask from one location in West Java. “The suspect claimed that he had sold 700 boxes (35,000 pieces) before he was arrested,” he said.
Meanwhile in Makassar city, South Sulawesi province, police arrested two people for hoarding 10,000 masks which police said were bound to be shipped to New Zealand.
The pair, police told Detik news portal, had already sold 1,500 masks to a buyer in Bali.
Police have earlier raided a factory producing surgical masks that were not in line with health standards.