As the coronavirus pandemic that originated in Wuhan has gone global, thousands of factories on the mainland have nimbly turned to a new and very profitable market – face masks for export.
At the height of the outbreak on the mainland in early February, Guan Xunze's company created a new mask factory in just eleven days.
The factory, with five production lines in northeastern China, made the much-needed N95 face masks which were in huge demand as infection numbers surged.
As cases in the country have dwindled, the 34-year-old – who was previously in pharmaceuticals – is now profiting from new markets and exporting masks to Italy, where the death toll has overtaken that of the mainland.
In the first two months of the year, a staggering 8,950 new manufacturers started producing masks on the mainland, according to business data platform Tianyancha – racing to fill the huge gap in demand.
"A mask machine is a real cash printer," said Shi Xinghui, sales manager of an N95 mask machine company in Dongguan city, Guangdong province.
"The profit of a mask now is at least several cents compared to less than one in the past. Printing 60,000 or 70,000 masks a day is equivalent to printing money."
Qi Guangtu has put more than 50 million yuan into his factory producing mask-making machines in the southern industrial hub of Dongguan.
It has been in 24-hour continuous production since January 25 – two days after the dramatic lockdown of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged.
"Cost recovery is certainly not a problem," he said, adding that 70 sets of equipment have been sold for more than 500,000 yuan each.
He has more than 200 additional orders in hand, worth over 100 million yuan.
"The machines pay for themselves in 15 days, " said Qi, saying the investment is worth it for his clients.
Manufacturer You Lixin had never set foot in a mask factory before.
But as the market soared and he saw the opportunity, it took him just ten days from first deciding to enter the industry to delivering automated machines capable of producing masks.
"I slept two or three hours a day, so did my clients," he said. You's clients also slept in his plant, waiting desperately to collect their new machinery.
Some of them are garment factory owners in Wenzhou, eastern Zhejiang province, who had switched to producing face masks.
"They were facing orders they had insufficient capacity to deliver, and they couldn't make the deliveries," You said.
The high levels of mask production has dramatically pushed up prices for raw materials.
According to Guan, the price of fabric has risen astronomically – from 10,000 yuan to 480,000 yuan per tonne.
According to China's official figures, China's daily mask production has passed 116 million now, with many meeting overseas demand.
Guan has already delivered one million masks to Italy, while Shi currently has more than 200 orders from South Korea and countries in the European Union.
"Dongguan remains the world's factory," said Shi. (AFP)