PENANG, Malaysia (Reuters) – When news of the coronavirus outbreak spread around the world in January, officials of the Malaysian tech company Qdos quickly realized what they needed to do to keep their factory in China running: get enough surgical masks for the 800 staff there.
The company, which makes flexible printed circuit boards and caters to five of the world’s 10 biggest smartphone makers, could not secure enough masks in China, where supplies quickly ran out as the virus crisis grew.
But that was not the case in Malaysia.
When the factory in the Chinese city of Xiamen closed for the Lunar New Year, and Malaysian employees came home for the break, Qdos decided that on their return, they and their families would stuff as many masks from Malaysia as possible in their luggage.
“Lots of Malaysian employees coming and going, with families, so 150 kg of masks per family!” Qdos Group Chief Executive Jeffrey Hwang told Reuters at one of its two factories in Malaysia.
“Without it, your employees can’t go to work. We still need more masks.”
Qdos eventually managed to get as many as 50,000 masks for the Xiamen staff – enough to last them until the end of March.
The Xiamen factory was featured in a Chinese TV program last month after it became one of the first in the city to comply with virus regulations, allowing it to reopen soon after the Lunar New Year.
It issues one three-ply mask per person per day plus a two-ply mask to place over the first later in the day when the first one wears out.
“Two-ply masks are not hard to get, they don’t really filter the virus,” Hwang said. “Masks are now very precious.”
Still, Qdos, like many other Malaysian electronics and electrical companies hit by supply chain disruption, has cut its sales growth outlook to “the low tens” from an initial forecast of 20%.
Reporting by Krishna N. Das