MANILA – Amid issues of alleged overpriced face masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) bought by the government in March and April 2020, officials of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) recalled the challenges in sourcing PPE sets at the height of the pandemic.
During President Rodrigo Duterte’s Talk to the People aired Wednesday, IATF member and Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the country had no local sources of face masks and PPE sets when the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) struck in the first quarter of 2020.
Lopez said when demand for face masks started to increase in early 2020 due to the Taal Volcano eruption and the Covid-19 outbreak, only Bataan-based Medtecs International Corp. Ltd. was manufacturing medical-grade face masks in the country.
However, Medtecs’ output is for exports, he said.
Lopez said due to huge demand for PPE sets at that time while supply was limited, prices of face masks and PPE sets then were high and unstable.
“If you talk of March, April, May (2020), prices were high back then,” Lopez said in Filipino.
During that time, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) called on local manufacturers to produce the much needed medical-grade face masks.
The Confederation of Wearable Exporters of the Philippines (Conwep) and other manufacturing companies, including producers in the electronics industry, have shifted a portion of their operation into face mask making.
“They heeded the call of the government to start local production (of face masks),” Lopez said.
But it was not also easy for these companies to start the face mask production as they had to import new machines and other technologies, as well as the raw materials for making PPE sets.
“Starting it that time was challenging because even the fabric used to produce face masks were expensive, and there was also (a) shortage,” Lopez said in Filipino. “Out of nothing, they have to produce.”
He added EMS Group, an electronics firm that shifted to face masks production, was one of the companies that initially produced the PPE for the local market.
Lopez said EMS produced during the latter part of May 2020 and joined the government bidding and supplied to the Procurement Service-Department of Budget and Management (PS-DBM) by June.
The DTI chief said with the limited production capacity of the local manufacturers, it was challenging for them to supply the government’s face mask requirement in huge volume.
“During those times, many must have forgotten our situation in March, April, May last year,” National Task Force Against Covid-19 deputy chief implementer Vivencio Dizon said in Filipino. “The national government had a hard time to find the necessary supply (of PPE sets) especially for our healthcare workers.”
Dizon added the procured face masks and other PPE sets during the Covid-19 outbreak last year were given for free for healthcare front-liners. (PNA)