THE garment industry has been tapped to produce coveralls for health care workers dealing with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) amid a global shortage of medical supplies, including Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

The Confederation of Wearable Exporters of the Philippines (CONWEP) is working with the health department and Philippine General Hospital (PGH) to develop a medical-grade prototype for use in high-risk hospital situations, the Board of Investments (BoI) said in a statement Monday.

BoI said the Philippines had not been a producer of medical-grade PPEs. Production of the new PPEs, which has been set a target of 10,000 per day, begins after Easter.

“We need to protect our health care workers as they are in the frontline of our fight against COVID-19. With PPEs in short supply, the government and private sector have collaborated closely to locally-produce these critical items needed to protect those who are protecting us against this virus,” trade secretary and BoI Chairman Ramon M. Lopez said.

The World Health Organization’s Philippine representative in March urged the private sector to help procure PPEs for health care workers.

BoI said that raw materials were unavailable, as medical-grade fluid impermeable textiles have to be imported. CONWEP sourced medical-grade materials that will be air shipped on April 9.

The government exempted from import duties the supplies and raw materials needed to manufacture urgently-needed medical products, and streamlined the import process for such goods.

San Miguel Corp. (SMC) said it will procure the initial 10,000 PPE coveralls and donate them to PGH.

The company last week said it will buy P500 million worth of PPEs for health workers.

“Our goal was primarily to boost supply of protective gear. But we also felt this is one way we can help reduce the impact of COVID-19 on our SMEs (small and medium enterprises). Now more than ever, we need local manufacturers to produce not just food and other necessities, but the very tools we need to fight this pandemic,” SMC President Ramon S. Ang said.

Mr. Lopez said that the garments sector was supported by the financial resources of other private firms.

“So while they employ a significant number of workers and are able to export Philippine-made wearables globally, they are not among the biggest Filipino companies in terms of financial resources,” he was quoted as saying.

Dr. Regina Berna, who heads the PGH Hospital Infection Control Unit, said the unit has tested the PPEs provided by the industry.

“Its material and design meet our strict requirements for PPEs to be used by our health force,” she said. — Jenina P. Ibañez