AS Watson Group, the world's biggest health and beauty retailer, owned by Hong Kong conglomerate CK Hutchison, has converted part of a water plant into a mask production line in the New Territories, to meet a surge in demand since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The company, which operates over 7,800 Watsons stores across Asia and Europe, will start to sell the three-layer, bacterial-filtering masks at a price of HK$79.9 (US$30) per box of 30 starting from mid-May in its physical shops and online, according to a statement on Monday.
Prices of the protective face masks have soared as demand has risen in recent months.
The plant, located at Tai Po in northeastern Hong Kong, will churn out 10 million masks a month eventually, after engineers turn part of it into a "dust-free clean room" with six automated mask production lines in just a month, the company said.
"We are delighted to apply our manufacturing expertise to help the community at this difficult time," said Michelle Chan, managing director at AS Watson Industries, in the statement.
AS Watson joins more than a dozen local companies that have rushed to build mask production plants in Hong Kong since the spread of the coronavirus in mainland China sparked a shortage of medical masks in the city.
The initial shortage has been alleviated to some extent from a peak in February, but prices remain much higher than they were before the virus outbreak, and people are still lining up to buy cheaper ones.
The government in March launched a HK$1.5 billion subsidy programme to support 20 firms in producing masks. The subsidised production lines will supply 34.6 million masks to the government every month and a further 8.2 million to the local market when they start to operate at full capacity, according to the commerce and economic development bureau.
A handful of subsidised producers will also put their masks on the market in May. For example, Lion Rock Mask, launched by a local pharmacy in Tsuen Wan, plans to sell their masks at HK$59 per box of 30.
AS Watson has previously donated 150,000 masks to elderly people in Hong Kong, it said.
All masks are individually packaged and certified to filter 99 per cent or more bacteria and small particles, it added.
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