Egypt is looking for alternate suppliers of protective masks other than China amid a crisis of a massive surge in demand triggered by a coronavirus outbreak in China, including Vietnam, India, Indonesia and Korea.
"The local production of masks in Egypt is not sufficient to meet local consumption, and the country's main dependence was on importing from China," Ali Ouf, head of the medicines division of Egypt's Federation of Chambers of Commerce, told Ahram Online.
The virus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has so far killed nearly 500 people. Fears of infection have stimulated huge demand on masks.
The rush for orders have prompted a Chinese merchant to request a medical supplies factory in Egypt to provide 145 million masks through its production line and export them to China, Ouf said.
"But the order had been declined because the production capacity of the factory cannot meet such amount," Ouf said.
The total annual manufacturing output of protective masks in Egypt doesn't come closer to this quantity, he said.
Egypt produces approximately 60 million masks annually and before the Chinese crisis it used to import 120 million from China to meet the local consumption which is about 180 million masks annually, according to Ouf.
The prices of masks have significantly surged in Egypt over the past weeks.
The price of the locally-produced normal mask, which protects the respiratory system from dust and wind, more than doubled from EGP1 to reach EGP2.5, and the price of the imported n95 mask, which is responsible for preventing viruses from entering the respiratory system, increased two-fold to EGP20 from EGP10.
Meanwhile, the local market still has a sufficient stock of masks until another exporter is to replace China so as to supply the local market with the required quantities, he noted.
Earlier this week, Egypt said it had gifted China 10 tonnes of preventative medical items, such as masks and alcoholic antiseptics, to help deal with coronavirus outbreak.
The World Health Organisation has confirmed that no coronavirus cases had been found in Egypt or the Middle East region, except for the United Arab Emirates.