THE Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) said it is encountering difficulties in sourcing 5 million face masks from overseas with domestic inventories running out.

Major drugstores and wholesalers’ supplies have been dwindling due to the spread of novel coronavirus outside of China, Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez said in a statement Sunday.

“We ordered on Friday the Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC), an attached agency of DTI, to start sourcing 5 million masks, to augment the local supply, especially the needs of the Department of Health (DoH) and other health workers,” he said.

PITC however found that suppliers overseas also have limited stocks of the N88 surgical mask due to a global surge in demand.

The US, Pakistan, India and some European countries replied to PTIC’s inquiries that they have limited stocks. The replies of Thailand and Vietnam are being awaited.

In the meantime, Mr. Lopez said he spoke with the sole domestic mask producer MedTecs International Corp. Ltd., which committed to supply two million masks per month as needed.

MedTecs is supplying 100,000 masks this week, and 400,000 units in each succeeding week. Mr. Lopez said the masks will be sold to drugstores.

“While they produce at a limited capacity (80,000 pieces per day), MedTecs is now airfreighting more machines to increase their production capacity,” Mr. Lopez said.

He said the department is also looking to expand domestic production.

“We have also intensified engagements to match parties with core capabilities that can extend to production of masks — including foreign companies in the country that have the technology, local companies that can readily provide factories and workers, and local producers in garments and sanitary paper or cotton-based products,” he said.

He said that the department continues to monitor prices and supplies to ensure that mask prices are within the Department of Health’s (DoH) prescribed range. The prices of disposable face masks, according to the DoH price list, should range between P1 to P8 per piece.

MedTecs recently donated 500,000 surgical masks to victims of the phreatic Taal volcano eruption. — Jenina P. Ibañez