Chinese companies claim to be taking in sizeable profits from the sale of highly valued face masks amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. One mask manufacturer even described the operation as lucrative as printing money.
The Hong Kong outlet Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) reported that, since February, thousands of factories in mainland China have turned to manufacturing face masks while they are in high demand. In one estimate, the first two months of the year saw 8,950 new mask manufacturers start production.
“A mask machine is a real cash printer,” said Shi Xinghui, the sales manager of a company that produces N95 respirator type masks. “The profit of a mask now is at least several cents compared to less than one in the past. Printing 60,000 or 70,000 masks a day is equivalent to printing money.”
Though the prices on raw materials for the masks, such as fabrics, have also spiked, the manufacturers are still reportedly seeing high profits.
Qi Guangtu, another mask manufacturer, told RTHK he invested nearly 50 million yuan (approximately $7,041,955 in U.S. currency) in one of his factories producing masks and said he already sold 70 sets of equipment, each valued at 50,000 yuan (approximately $7,041.96).
“Cost recovery is certainly not a problem,” Qi said.
He added that he has an additional 200 sets on order, at about 100 million yuan. He said that at his current rate of production, a mask-making machine pays itself off in about 15 days.
According to Chinese government figures, the country has reached a daily mask production rate in excess of 116 million.
The companies are yielding high profits on masks even as the Chinese government has been accused of concealing the initial outbreak of the deadly virus. The Chinese government reportedly detained doctors who warned about the coronavirus early on and ordered laboratory samples of the virus destroyed.
The virus first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan and has spread to more than 170 countries and more than 766,000 cases and more than 36,800 deaths have been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus case tracking map.
Many Chinese companies are exporting their masks to countries like Italy, where the number of cases and deaths from the virus has surpassed that of those reported in China.
In the U.S. the number of N95 style masks available has been an ongoing topic of concern and the U.S. Department of Defense recently signed contracts with defense industry manufacturers to produce masks to add to the U.S. supply.