Terry Gou accompanies Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at Foxconn's huge Zhengzhou plant in central China, where iPhones are assembled. File photo: Handout

Foxconn will start manufacturing surgical face masks alongside Apple products at its Shenzhen factory, the world’s biggest contract electronics maker has announced in response to the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

“Face masks are now the standard equipment in our fight against the epidemic,” the manufacturing giant said in a 1,200-word statement on its official WeChat social-media site.

“Every second counts in this battle, the sooner we can ensure a supply of these goods, the sooner we can stop the epidemic, save lives and get through these difficult times.”

Also known by its official name Hon Hai Precision Industry, Foxconn assembles Apple’s iPhones, as well as gadgets for other international brands.

The company’s vast network of factories in China are set to resume operations on Monday February 10 after an extended Lunar New Year holiday caused by the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, which has since spread to 20 countries.

“We have succeeded in the test production and are applying for certification. We anticipate being able to produce 20 million masks by the end of February,” the Foxconn statement said.

The spread of the disease has already prompted China’s foreign ministry to appeal to the international community for donations in medical supplies – including surgical face masks, protective clothing and safety goggles.

The number of confirmed infections in Mainland China has risen to nearly 38,000 cases and caused more than 800 deaths.

The virus is also set to have an impact on international supply chains and manufacturing given China’s lynchpin role in the global economy.

Foxconn now projects a sales increase of 1 to 3% this year, down from a January forecast of 3 to 5%, chairman Young Liu told Bloomberg News.

The company has tried to allay fears of production shortfalls, saying it had previous experience of viral outbreaks during the Sars epidemic in 2003.

Once full production of face masks is reached, “not only can we satisfy our own employees’ epidemic prevention needs, we can also provide for people outside the company,” Foxconn said.

AFP

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