Asia Minute: Asia Dominates Face Mask Production

Apr 3, 2020

Face masks have suddenly become a focus of discussion around the country. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is the latest to “strongly recommend” residents wear them while outside. He’s talking about re-usable cloth masks. But the disposable kind are part of a new production push in Asia.

Disposable face masks have been a regular feature of life in parts of Asia for a very long time. The main idea is to wear one when you have a cold or are not feeling well — so you won’t spread germs. Some people wear them during long flights to keep their nasal passages from drying out.

These are not the high filtration N-95 masks so desperately needed by hospitals. They’re mostly paper-based with varying levels of woven fiber.

When it comes to masks of all kinds, China is the dominant global player. The New York Times reports China makes about 7-billion face masks a year — half of the world’s supply. Some of those are made by American companies with factories in China — including 3M.

The Times says another 20% of the world’s face masks come from Taiwan — which this week announced it will be donating 10-million of them to countries hit hard by the spread of the novel coronavirus. Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says 2-million of them will be coming to the United States — most of the rest going to Europe.

Earlier this year, Taiwan was among several producers that temporarily banned the export of face masks. And it’s probably not a surprise that masks are on the list of medical equipment that the World Health Organization says is in short supply.