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Small town caters to big demand for fabric amid coronavirus outbreak

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-02-07 16:38

The situation has created a huge demand for masks. As of Monday, daily production of masks exceeded 14.8 million by factories in 22 provincial-level regions, up 3.1 percent from the previous day. [Photo/Sipa]

HANGZHOU -- In the factory of Shenglan Paper Co Ltd, 14 workers are busy producing meltblown, non-woven fabric that could help shield people from infections by the novel strain of coronavirus.

"We are working hectically to try to provide more fabric for mask-making factories," said Li Anwen, who is in charge of production of the company in Longyou County in East China's Zhejiang province. The county is about 200 km away from the provincial capital Hangzhou.

The overall confirmed cases had reached 31,161 on the Chinese mainland by the end of Thursday, and 636 people had died of the disease, according to the National Health Commission.

The situation has created a huge demand for masks. As of Monday, daily production of masks exceeded 14.8 million by factories in 22 provincial-level regions, up 3.1 percent from the previous day. The output of masks has shown a continuous upward trend, especially medical KN95 masks, according to Hao Fuqing, an official with the National Development and Reform Commission.

Under such circumstances, demand is also soaring for meltblown non-woven fabric, the essential material needed for making such respirators.

Meltblown non-woven fabric is the filtering layer in the middle part of the mask. The width of the fabric's fiber is about 0.5 percent of that of a hair. Each fiber is full of polarized charges, creating a weak electric field. This means that the fabric can absorb dust, bacteria and pollen effectively.

The fabric filters particles, insulates heat and absorbs oil, and is widely used in medical masks, surgical clothes, diapers and sanitary pads.

Longyou County produces about 8 percent of the country's total output of filtering fabric. As the virus outbreak grows, workers are moving heaven and earth to make the fabric in support of mask factories across the country.

Currently, the county makes about three tons of the fabric on a daily basis, according to official figures.

"Now is the critical point of the fight against the epidemic, and many mask factories are waiting for the fabric supplies," said Wang Sheng, with the county's bureau of economy and information technology.

On Jan 23, Shenglan Paper Co Ltd submitted a project to make meltblown non-woven fabric. County officials moved quickly to help the company go into production as soon as possible. They quickly approved the project, helped the company to install transformers and hired workers.

On the night of Jan 29, two production lines went into full gear, able to make fabric for at least 2 million surgical masks or KN95 respirators every day.

"We have finished only two production lines so far," said company general manager Li Changwen. "Production is automatic. We have 10 workers in the factory."

Pan Qiping has been working in the factory since production began on Jan 29.

"We work on shifts," said Pan, 53. "It's not easy, but I know our products can save lives, so it's worth it."

The company provides the materials for four mask factories in Zhejiang, and up to three vans come to fetch the goods each day, said Li Changwen.

"We have 40 tons of raw materials, so we can meet the demand," Li said. "My biggest wish is for the epidemic to stop as soon as possible so that people can get back to their normal lives."

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