Dan O'Heirity

Fake Face Mask Production in China

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately given my academic career and propensity for research, I have the kind of mind that stores loose ends that need tidying up. In this case the loose end concerns a post that I wrote at least two months ago that asked the question just how it is that businesses in China set up thousands of mask production companies overnight with many of these companies producing substandard products that were made with poor quality materials. Today, I found my answer. Well, at least some of the answer. Apparently there is a term in China, “tide players” which is used to refer to individuals who are first on board when a new business opportunity presents itself. Their aim. To turn a quick buck. Apparently the first five months of 2020 saw, “70,802 new companies registered to make or trade face masks in China, a 1,256 per cent rise from a year earlier.” At the same time, 7,296 new companies registered to manufacture meltblown fabric which, along with non-woven fabric, is one of the key components of masks if they are to be manufacture to the required standard to meet U.S. and European Union regulations. This represents, “an increase of 2,277 per cent from a year earlier.”

The first point that I would note here is that it is mind blowing that around 70,000 new companies could register to produce face masks in such a short period of time and around 7,000 new companies could register to produce the fabric in the same time frame. My thinking here is that it must be relatively straightforward to register a company in China and that the registrations for these companies did not require any evidence that production would meet the American National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) (FDA) standards or the European Union Conformité Européene (CE) standards. This really is the only logical conclusion that can be drawn because it is utterly impossible that these companies set up manufacturing bases almost overnight that would meet the stringent standards of the U.S, and the EU. Many of the companies that appeared are no longer in business with one reason cited as “Beijing’s crackdown on the export of non-licensed supplies amid staunch criticism from governments around the world.” I take non-licensed to mean not licensed for production in China – irrespective of whether said masks would ever meet FDA or CE standards.

A reputable and established mask maker in China said that, “these unqualified manufacturers are of course being knocked out [of the market]” due to the poor quality of their products. Consider that a cookware manufacture in Yangzhong invested in 7 meltblown production lines despite having no experience and no license. The Yangzhong government acted to close down factories such factories, eventually banning 867 companies from producing the fabric. A furniture manufacturer referred to only as Li, found his fabric factories forced to close in the crackdown at a time when he had not produced any fabric. A third individual, Mo Xiaoyi “stockpiled meltblown fabric and nonwoven fabric” when prices where high. He sold these masks and notes that traders would make their purchases “without asking for certificates or licences.” Mo also now finds himself without any business but, get this. Mo says, “I am waiting and seeing . . . Maybe there will be a second wave of coronavirus in the winter.” Got to love the Chinese business mindset. Pandemic equals money making opportunity.

So, overall I am thinking that in an ideal world mask manufacturers in China were meant to have a license to operate and they were meant to have certificates guaranteeing that their products met certain standards. These standards would not have been the standards of the FDA or the CE in Europe because getting FDA approval for mask manufacturing takes months. I assume that the same is true for CE approval. As the the CCP virus struck, Australia only had one company producing face masks. It is, perhaps for this reason, that I cannot find any information on the Australian government approval process for manufacturing these masks. However, what I do know is that the Australian market is now flooded with fake Chinese N95 masks. The reason I know this is that online retailers such as eBay have hundreds, if not thousands of listings, for KN95 masks. KN95, as opposed to N95, is the preferred designation for Chinese manufacturers. Furthermore, having looked through 20 pages of face masks suppliers, I found only one supplier providing FDA / CE certified masks. Basically, it would appear that Australia has been flooded with fake Chinese KN95 masks.

First Published June 14th, 2020

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