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COVID-19: Kazakhstan’s Defense Factories Switch To Make Medical Gear

By Nazrin Gadimova April 3, 2020

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Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, prices for personal medical supplies have surged. Surgical masks have seen a sixfold increase, while N95 respirators have trebled and gowns have doubled. / Industry Europe

Defense factories in Central Asia’s largest country have shifted manufacturing to support the production of medical equipment, including face masks and ventilators, to help fight the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

‘‘The defense industry enterprises have been mobilized for nationwide measures aimed at slowing the spread of coronavirus,’’ reads a statement issued by Kazakhstan' Industry and Infrastructure Development Ministry on Friday.

‘‘As part of the technical conversion, defense factories have promptly switched to the production of civilian goods for general and medical purposes.’’

This week, the defense industry complex "Kazakhstan Engineering" began converting one of its aerospace plants in northern Kazakhstan to start making about two million masks. In addition, the plant, which now operates around the clock — three shifts a day, will manufacture portable ventilators for ambulances. The two other defense manufacturers, both located in Almaty, have pledged their support to make hazmat suits and sanitizers, while some defense factories have shifted manufacturing towards infrared thermometers and safety equipment. 

At the same time, defense manufacturers in Kazakhstan have not halted the main production. 

‘‘They are working to implement the state defense order for 2020 to meet requirements of law enforcement agencies within the approved schedule,’’ the ministry’s statement reads.

On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) has called on industry and governments to increase the manufacturing of personal protective equipment by 40 percent to meet rising global demand. 

"Industry and governments must act quickly to boost supply, ease export restrictions and put measures in place to stop speculation and hoarding. We can’t stop COVID-19 without protecting health workers first,” said WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, according to a statement published to the organization’s website.

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, prices for personal medical supplies have surged. Surgical masks have seen a sixfold increase, while N95 respirators have trebled and gowns have doubled. Shortages are leaving doctors, nurses and other frontline workers dangerously ill-equipped to care for coronavirus patients. 

According to the WHO data, an estimated 89 million medical masks are required for the COVID-19 response each month. For examination gloves, that figure goes up to 76 million, while international demand for goggles stands at 1.6 million per month. 

The World Bank said on Friday it had allocated $10 million to address Kazakhstan’s urgent need for medical equipment and supplies, especially for ventilators. The next loan in the amount of $25 million will be allocated in the near future, according to Jean-François Marteau, the country manager of the World Bank for Kazakhstan. 

On Thursday, a commercial aircraft carrying 500 kilograms of tests, gloves, gowns and other medical supplies from China touched down in Almaty.

The rapidly spreading COVID-19 virus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has already infected more than one million people and killed more than 58,000 across the world since last December, according to an interactive map from Johns Hopkins Center for Systems Science and Engineering. 

New case numbers Friday morning show over 460 people across Kazakhstan are confirmed to have COVID-19. According to the interactive map, six people have died of the virus.