Covid-19 outbreak: Lack of machines puts a spanner in India’s PPE plans

New Delhi: Crucial personal protective equipment (PPE) suits being used mainly by health workers to tackle the Covid-19 outbreak are in short supply in India due to the shortage of a critical machine needed to stitch them up, with China putting the country on a 12-week wait for it.

“India has created sufficient fabric producing facilities and all required material. However, we have just about 150 hot air seam sealing machines to stitch the suits up,” a senior government official told ET. “The government has tried to source more machines from China but the Chinese government has asked for 12 weeks to supply them”. Germany is another country which could have supplied these machines but it is closed for now, the official added.

Given the current resources, India will be able to more than double the daily production of PPE suits to 30,000 by April 23 from the current 12,000. But the country needs another 200-300 hot air seam sealing machines to scale up its capacity to close to 100,000 a day, which is the target, the official added.

There are concerns that if the lockdown is lifted and if the infection spreads, the lack of PPEs could be a major problem area for the government.


PPEs from Other Countries

So, supply of adequate protective medical equipment, including PPEs and relevant masks, has emerged as one of the key factors being considered by the government while taking a decision on whether to extend the April 14 lockdown deadline, officials said.

“One of the aims of the lockdown have been to ramp up our healthcare facilities and equipment in case there is a deluge of cases once we open up. Scaling up quarantine facilities as well as manufacturing of PPEs and ventilators are a crucial part of that strategy,” one official said.

Authorities have reached out to other countries to step up supplies. About two lakh PPEs have already been received and two lakh more are expected to reach by April 15, officials said.

The government has also asked private sector players to reach out to their suppliers in China to try and source these machines and plans have been drawn up to facilitate their entry into the country, including special Air India flights to Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.

“Government can only do as much, this role is being played by our entrepreneurs, they are sourcing it,” the official said.

India has scaled up local production of PPEs to 65,000 from zero a fortnight back, and is currently manufacturing 12,000 suits every day, the official said. “Our target is to touch about 1.5 crore by June.” At present, there are 12 manufacturers in the country and an additional 12 are expected to contribute in the next few weeks.

PPEs are the personal protective equipment which doctors, nurses and other frontline health workers including staff at sample collection units need to wear, as they work as barriers between an individual’s skin, mouth, nose, or eyes and viral and bacterial infections.

About 90% of the entire PPE is the body suit followed by N-95 masks, goggles, gloves and shoe covers. Goggles and shoe covers are relatively easy to procure. Masks remain another area of concern. The country is manufacturing about 1.25 lakh N-95 masks, and these need to go up to 2.7 crore, officials said.

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