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Amid Wuhan virus outbreak, Alibaba says it has only 46.1 million masks in stock(updated)

The government has ordered people in Wuhan to wear masks in public spaces.

Photo: Tuchong

As orders for face masks flood in from all over the country, Alibaba revealed that there are only 46.1 million masks stored in the warehouses of its 92 suppliers, as of 6:00 pm on Wednesday. The company also said that its suppliers can only manufacture an additional 1.57 million masks before the Lunar New Year, 36Kr reported on Thursday.

Alibaba said that orders from regions most affected by the 2019 novel coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, will be prioritized, though the company did not indicate how this will be handled in practice.

Masks are believed to be a necessary precaution to safeguard against infection. The government of Wuhan, where the first case of infection was identified, has required all people within the city limits to don masks when they are in public spaces. So far, the virus has claimed 17 lives—all in Hubei province—and has infected 571 individuals with pneumonia, according to official numbers released on January 22.

Alibaba’s data on the availability of medical masks reveals a chasm between their demand and suppliers’ capabilities of meeting those needs.

There are 11 million residents in Wuhan. The country has a population of 1.4 billion. Already, 25 provinces and municipalities have reported confirmed cases of infection.

The Wuhan government has closed all outbound transportation channels, including railways, air routes, and highways, in an attempt to contain the virus. The 2019-nCoV is has been identified as a cousin of SARS, which killed nearly 800 people in 2002 and 2003.

There has been a rush to purchase masks at brick-and-mortar pharmacies in China, and some merchants have raised prices. In Shanxi province, where there is one confirmed case of infection, a 3M mask is sold for RMB 50 (USD 7). E-commerce platforms including Alibaba, JD.com, Pinduoduo, and Suning.com have banned price hikes of masks in their marketplaces.

Production staff at most factories in China are on holiday between January 25 and 30 for the Lunar New Year. When work resumes, the daily output for medical mask producers that supply Alibaba can reach 16 million, the e-commerce conglomerate said.

3M China told China National Radio on Wednesday that the company will not halt production during the week-long break, and is currently speeding up manufacturing. The company also said that prices for masks sold on its flagship stores on Tmall and JD.com will remain stable.

JD.com said on Thursday that in its warehouses, there were 20.3 million masks produced by 3M, Honeywell and Winner Medical as of January 22 and another 25.9 million units were being transported by its couriers on that day.

The company added that between January 19 and January 22, a total of 126 million masks were sold on its platform.

The report was updated on January 23 to include data from JD.com