Mumbai: As the debate rages on the effectiveness of 'face masks' in curbing the spread of coronavirus, India's manufacturing industry has gone into overdrive to produce more such personal protection equipment to leverage the growing domestic and global market.
Industry experts cite the phenomenon of binge fear buying, as people rush to medical stores to get their hands on either N95 or a simple surgical face mask to protect themselves from the threat of coronavirus.
"Indian manufacturers are trying their best to produce more N95 and surgical face masks, but with the government relaxing export norms, there might be scarcity in India in the coming time," Abhay Pandey, National President, All Food and Drug Licence Holder Foundation (AFDLHF), told IANS.
Pandey recently urged the government to tighten export norms and build a national reserve of personal protection items such as bouffant surgical caps, face masks, gloves, disposable gowns and shoe covers. Just a few days back, the ban on the export of some personal protection equipment was set aside, except for N95 masks.
Some industry estimates range the combined market size of these personal protection equipment products from Rs 2,500-3,500 crore. "The average cost of manufacturing these surgical face masks is only around 40-45 paise, while that for N95 mask is about Rs 10-12. But due to market dynamics, these are being sold at a much higher price," Pandey said.
According to Manoj Rajawat, Director of Orthosut Biomedical & Engineering Company, "Because of the coronavirus epidemic, India's domestic markets, including wholesale and retail, are nearly 80 to 90 per cent dry with shortage of face masks. There has also been an upward revision of prices."
Similarly, Edelweiss Securities' Economist Madhavi Arora said, "Amid still-evolving cases of coronavirus, the demand for safety masks is going to increase.
"Global markets are already seeing tremendous up-tick in demand which is slowly spiralling in Indian markets as well. If the government does open the market for exports, the price impact back home would be felt too."
However, the binge face mask buying might ultimately not lead to any tangible results in curbing the spread of coronavirus.
"Face masks do not provide foolproof protection from coronavirus, which is the reason why CDC has not advised wearing face masks. However, face masks are providing a sort of psychological comfort to the people who are travelling," Arvind Kumar, Founder Trustee, Lung Care Foundation, told IANS.
"Face masks definitely reduce infected persons' ability to spread the virus in the environment. However, only N95 masks provide some protection to healthy individuals against the virus," Kumar added.