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Jakarta Post

35 manufacturers ramp up capacity to produce COVID-19 protective gear

  • Made Anthony Iswara

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Tue, April 7, 2020   /   07:01 pm
35 manufacturers ramp up capacity to produce COVID-19 protective gear A medical worker takes a blood sample from a man to test for COVID-19 in Bogor, West Java, on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan)

Indonesian industries are ramping up their capacity to produce the medical equipment required to combat COVID-19 and will potentially export the products to other countries if there is an excess, a minister has said.

Industry Minister Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmita said on Monday that 35 companies were preparing produce, together, about 18.3 million pieces of protective gear by early May, consisting of 1.2 million medical-grade pieces of gear made of polypropylene plastics and over 17 million pieces of non-medical grade gear made of cotton, nylon and polyester.

“If we assume that national needs are about 5 to 10 million pieces of protective gear every month, then Insya Allah [God willing], we can export the leftovers, as the items are much needed in the world,” he said during a meeting with the House of Representatives. “Certain types of items, like ventilators, have yet to be produced locally. [Protective gear] could be our bargaining item with countries that produce ventilators.”

Agus added that industries would diversify their raw materials to make the gear. PT Pan Brothers has shifted its usual production to manufacture 10 million cloth masks every month, and garment manufacturer PT Sritex plans to increase its protective gear production to a monthly 1 million pieces from the current 150,000 units.

There is a global shortage of medical equipment, including masks, protective gear, test kits and ventilators, as countries around the world struggle to contain the rapid spread of COVID-19. Exporting such items would fulfill Indonesia’s promise to join in global efforts to produce medical supplies crucial for the fight against COVID-19. 

Involving more sectors in the production of medical supplies could also keep factories running. Indonesian manufacturing output slumped to an all-time low in March, according to IHS Markit’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI).

A least 198 companies are able to produce items required to fight COVID-19, a ministry survey shows. Those include 17 companies producing 318.4 million masks every month, six companies producing 8.6 billion rubber gloves every month and 104 companies producing 16,400 kiloliters of hand sanitizer every month, among other products.

Read also: Indonesian manufacturers step up as G20 nations coordinate global medical supply

Lawmaker Andre Rosiade from House Commission VI said in the meeting that despite the ministry's optimistic figures, almost every hospital in his electoral district of West Sumatra was struggling to obtain protective gear.

“I ask all government officials to stop giving false statements because we are still lacking protective gear,” said Andre, condemning initiatives to export such items.

Indonesia Association of Medical Device Manufacturers (Aspaki) Division I head overseeing domestic product promotion Erwin Hermanto said on Tuesday that producers would be able to supply domestic demand for masks. The country’s 22 surgical mask producers could produce 200 million masks monthly, he said. The Health Ministry estimates that the country needs only about 50 million masks over the next four months.

“Even though domestic mask production capacity is sufficient [to supply needs], local producers are currently facing significant problems with raw materials, and thus, production activities are unable to run optimally,” he wrote in a statement.

Read also: COVID-19: Textile factories face hurdles as they switch to producing medical gear

Erwin added that the country’s capacity to produce protective gear was limited as the product was not in significant demand before the pandemic. Currently, six identified manufacturers in the country can produce 400,000 pieces of protective gear every month. The Health Ministry estimates it will need 3 million pieces in the next four months. 

Indonesia did not have the capacity to export medical gear in April, he said. However, he saw potential for exporting masks and protective gear in the upcoming months if the government initiative to mobilize the textile industry and contain the virus went as planned.

“ASPAKI supports government policies to prioritize domestic needs and develop domestic production to meet needs during the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

He suggested the government subsidize raw materials, stabilize the rupiah exchange rate and ensure that transportation, logistics and import flows were undisrupted by the government’s large-scale social distancing policy.

ASPAKI also proposed that the government relax its import tax and duties on machinery and raw materials needed to produce protective gear and masks. The government could also, according to ASPAKI, push state banks to facilitate low-interest loans for the purchase of machinery and expand the necessary facilities to produce such items.