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Auto, energy firms turn to making face masks

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BEIJING (The Wall Street Journal) — China’s auto makers, the world’s biggest iPhone assembler and even state-owned energy companies are using their assembly lines to pump out more face masks and other medical supplies as the country responds to a coronavirus outbreak that has spread around the world.

A health worker wearing a protective mask holds a sign during a rally outside a hospital in metropolitan Manila, the Philippines on Friday.  AP

President Xi Jinping last week declared a “people’s war” against the coronavirus and, as nations do in wartime, China is mobilizing its manufacturing machine to fill a shortfall of critical supplies.

Face masks have become essential protective gear for front-line medical workers treating patients infected with the virus. But demand for face masks has stretched supply, as have requirements in some provinces mandating they be worn by anyone leaving home.

On Friday, China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., the $75 billion oil giant known as Sinopec, said it had secured mask-production equipment and was setting up 11 production lines while Shanghai Electric Group Co., with a partner, said it plans to set up 10 production lines this month.

Foxconn Technology Group, which makes Apple Inc.’s iPhones, said it had begun testing production of masks in the city of Shenzhen, adding that by the end of the month, it hopes to produce two million masks a day for its workers and possibly for aid purposes.

General Motors Co.’s local joint venture said it would set up 14 lines to produce at least 1.7 million masks a day.

The shortage of masks also has become a global issue, with masks disappearing from shelves and selling out online. Mask producers around the globe, including 3M Co., of St. Paul, Minn., Tokyo-based Unicharm Corp. and Foshan Nanhai Beautiful Nonwoven Co., based in the Chinese province of Guangdong, have all ramped up production, some running their product lines 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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