KUALA LUMPUR, 26 March 2020 – An impending rubber glove shortage is hitting the world, compounded by measures to contain the deadly COVID-19 in a country that dominates production: Malaysia.
The country’s glovemaking association — whose members make 3 out of every 5 gloves worldwide — is warning of a global “chronic shortage” of the critical medical gear as the plants were forced to cut staffing due to Malaysia’s expansive lockdown.
Top Glove Corp Bhd, the world’s largest producer of rubber gloves, said demand from the US, Europe and other nations outstrips its capacity while fulfillment of orders is running as late as four months behind.
As Malaysia has implemented the movement control order across the country and ordered many businesses to close down while requiring others to keep as many workers home as possible to curb the spread of the virus.
Most glovemakers have received an exemption to staff their factories at just 50%, with some of the companies planning to meet with a top trade ministry official on Thursday to seek approval to operate with a full workforce, according to the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA).
Governments across the world are desperately trying to acquire and stockpile critical medical supplies such as masks, ventilators and gowns as frontline doctors and nurses face shortages. That’s forcing many of the biggest makers to run factories around the clock to meet demand. Malaysia’s glovemakers, however, are having to curb output as the country fights a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
“Today’s demand is abnormal. Hospitals are running out of gloves,” said Denis Low, president of the glovemakers’ association in a phone interview Thursday. “We are not able to supply the quantity that we want. It’s not our choice.”
Low said association members will meet with Datuk Seri Azmin Ali, the senior minister for trade and industry, on Thursday to request the additional exemption. Malaysia’s industry supplies about 67% of the global demand for as much as 345 billion units annually, he said. It’s also being asked to meet local need for rubber gloves first, before the rest of the world.
Even at full capacity, Malaysia’s producers won’t be able to meet the current need. Top Glove said it’s seeing orders for as many as 2.6 billion gloves weekly — double its full capacity. The company, which supplies a little more than a quarter of the world’s rubber gloves, recently received an exemption to fully staff its production lines.
“We are running 24 hours, two shifts on the production floor,” said Tan Sri Dr Lim Wee Chai, Top Glove’s executive chairman. “There’s a definite shortage already.”