Global demand keeps mask producers busy

Mokgadi Lehutso at work in Universal Safety Products's factory in Laudium, Pretoria. The company is no longer taking new orders until October due to high demand induced by coronavirus. /ANTONIO MUCHAVE
Mokgadi Lehutso at work in Universal Safety Products's factory in Laudium, Pretoria. The company is no longer taking new orders until October due to high demand induced by coronavirus. /ANTONIO MUCHAVE

Two Pretoria entrepreneurs who make face masks say demand for the product has increased exponentially since the spread of coronavirus to more countries.

Jordean Eksteen and David Molosankwe, owners of Universal Safety Products, who donated 30,000 masks to China to aid in the battle against the deadly outbreak, said they can no longer take new orders until October.

The company based in Laudium, Pretoria, produces high-end face masks which caught the attention of the Chinese government last month. Face masks are used by medical personnel and general public to prevent the spread of coronavirus infection.

Eksteen told Sowetan yesterday that since last month, more orders for face masks had come through but the manufacturer can only honour existing contracts to its customers.

"We need to service our current clients first before we can look at the growth that is related to coronavirus," Eksteen said.

"We've had plenty of people in South Africa trying to get hold of us and place new orders but we are in a position where we can't take new orders. We can't take anymore, especially the coronavirus-related staff because we are focusing on our long-term contract.

"Obviously, we have orders from everywhere - Europe, America, South America. We have really stopped counting now.

"Our focus is to make sure that our African business continues as normal; it is not what is happening in China and elsewhere.

"The numbers of what we are sending out to the rest of the world is a much smaller percentage when compared to the rest of the continent."

Since receiving the masks from the company, the Chinese have expressed interest in buying 20-million of them.

Eksteen said they currently produce between one million and 1.3-million units a month.

He said the masks were being exported to southern, east and west Africa.

Coronavirus has infected over 90,000 people, claiming more than 3,000 lives so far.

Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa ordered the repatriation of 151 South Africans stuck in the Chinese city of Wuhan which is the epicentre of the outbreak.

Tomorrow, the National Assembly is expected to hold a debate on the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Eksteen and Molosankwe started their company with the help of a German company that specialises in filtering media used on the masks.

To date the pair employ 60 youths, mostly black women from the nearby townships.

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