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Sharp to ramp up global output of surgical masks

Electronics maker plans to eventually sell direct to consumers

People wearing masks in Jakarta, Indonesia. Demand for the protective gear has surged as the coronavirus has spread.   © Reuters

OSAKA -- Electronics maker Sharp will produce surgical masks at sites in Europe, India and China to answer the sudden demand caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, it's chief executive said Wednesday.

"This could also become a long-term, sustainable business," Chairman and President Tai Jeng-Wu said in a message to employees. The starting dates and the scales of the operations will be determined later.

These moves are an extension of the mask-making enterprise launched in February by Taiwanese parent Foxconn, the leading iPhone assembler also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry.

As the pandemic continues to spread, surpassing 910,000 cases worldwide as of Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University, the demand for medical-grade masks has surged among health care workers and the public.

Sharp has already started making masks in Japan, answering the government's call to offset a national shortage. The company fulfilled the first delivery at the end of March. The Osaka-based group makes use of clean rooms at a liquid crystal display plant in nearby Mie Prefecture.

The equipment installed to make the masks is subsidized by the government. Sharp will eventually churn out half a million masks per day, up from the initial 150,000 masks.

For now, Sharp is supplying the masks directly to the government, but there are plans to sell the face covers through the company's online shopping site.

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