A group aiming to produce 12 million face masks has said the Hong Kong government would get 150,000 a week starting on Thursday, as the city continues to battle against the coronavirus epidemic.
The Hong Kong Institute of Family Education, which has coordinated the production of the new masks, said it would sell another 150,000 masks in the first week to private clinics, a nursing association, non-profit organisations, and the city’s 18 district councils, at HK$2 a mask.
The HK$6.5 million government-backed project aims to distribute masks to frontline workers, especially medical professionals, and the elderly. It said the government’s quota would be distributed by the Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office, and the Elderly Commission.
Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee, head of the Policy Innovation and Co-ordination Office, said the new supply would add to the 700,000 masks supplied by the Correctional Services Department to government-outsourced janitors, who had complained their stock was running out.
However, she said the government had not decided whether to hand over some to medical staff in public hospitals, who are running low on critical supplies.
The newly developed mask can filter 99 per cent of bacterial aerosol droplets measuring three micrometres in size, according to Edwin Cheng Shing-lung, the production line’s director.
He did not say, however, whether the mask could filter the much smaller coronavirus, which is less than 0.2 micrometres.
He admitted the masks had yet to receive official certification, but said the group would publicise the testing results once available.
“We are 100 per cent confident [that the mask meets the required standard]. We have put our names on the line,” Cheng said.
He said the mask was not designed for use by medical workers in hospitals, but it could be used by them during days off, and their families.
The production line will first start manufacture in two factories, one in mainland China, producing more than 40,000 masks a day.
Some 300,000 masks are expected to be released in the first week, with double the quantity in the second week. Up to 800,000 masks can be produced when the factories are in full operation.
Government adviser Lam Ching-choi, who heads the Elderly Commission, said it was important to secure mask supply through local production, as foreign countries such as Japan had considered banning the export of surgical masks.
“Sourcing masks overseas will become more difficult in the future, so we must maintain enough production lines in the local community,” he said.
Earlier this month, the government put forward a HK$1.5 billion subsidy scheme to aid local production of masks, as part of a larger HK$30 billion package aimed at supporting the city’s health care sector, and bailing out industries hit financially by the epidemic.
Cheng said he had not applied for the scheme, but was able to find venues to build factories and liaise with relevant parties through the government. He said he would consider applying for the subsidy if the group ran out of money in the future.