Face masks in surplus, ministry says
Thailand has more than enough medical face masks after several factories were set up, a trade official says.
Whichai Phochanakij, director-general of the Internal Trade Department under the Commerce Ministry, said Thailand has a surplus of medical face masks of 1.2 million pieces a day, with total production in the country of 4.2 million pieces a day.
Before the crisis, there were 11 factories producing masks nationwide, making about 1.2 million pieces a day. An additional 12 factories have opened since, bring the total to 23 nationwide.
At present, 16 qualified factories sell a combined 3 million medical face masks daily to the state agencies, 1.8 million of which are allocated to the Public Health Ministry and 1.2 million to the Interior Ministry.
According to Mr Whichai, China, the world's biggest supplier of medical face masks, has resumed mask exports after limiting them at first to ensure adequate domestic supply.
Thailand is still restricting the export of medical masks, with an ad hoc committee recently approving an extension of the export ban for medical face masks until February 2021.
On March 3, the cabinet approved an order to ban face mask exports to ensure sufficient domestic supply.
Proposed by the Commerce Ministry, the ban makes an exception for face masks with specifications for use in industrial factories and those produced under trademark restrictions.
On Feb 21, Commerce Minister Jurin Laksanawisit signed an announcement of the Central Committee on Goods and Service Prices regarding face mask exports, banning outbound shipments.
The central committee, chaired by Mr Jurin, approved on Feb 3 the inclusion of face masks and alcohol-based hand sanitiser on the price control list.
Once an item is on the price control list, manufacturers, distributors, exporters and importers have to notify the Internal Trade Department of production costs, prices, production volume, export/import volume and inventory. Those who export more than 500 pieces need prior approval from the department.
Similar measures were applied to hand sanitiser, except for the limit on export volume, as there are still adequate quantities for domestic demand.
This decision later won cabinet approval on Feb 11.
According to the Commerce Ministry, domestic demand for face masks has surged to 40-50 million pieces a month after the outbreak, up from 30 million previously.
Thailand shipped 226 million face masks in 2019, a 218% surge from 71 million masks in 2018.