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Global condom shortage looms as coronavirus shuts down production

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A global shortage of condoms is looming, the world’s biggest producer has said, after a coronavirus lockdown forced it to shut down production.

Malaysia’s Karex Bhd makes one in every five condoms globally. It has not produced a single condom in its three Malaysian factories for more than a week because of a lockdown imposed by the government to halt the spread of the virus.

That is already a shortfall of 100m condoms, normally marketed internationally by brands such as Durex, supplied to state healthcare systems such as Britain’s NHS or distributed by aid programmes such as the UN Population Fund.

The company was given permission to restart production on Friday, but with only 50% of its workforce, under a special exemption for critical industries.

“It will take time to jumpstart factories and we will struggle to keep up with demand at half capacity,” said the chief executive, Goh Miah Kiat.

“We are going to see a global shortage of condoms everywhere, which is going to be scary,” he said. “My concern is that for a lot of humanitarian programmes … in Africa, the shortage will not just be two weeks or a month. That shortage can run into months.”

Malaysia is south-east Asia’s worst-affected country, with 2,161 coronavirus infections and 26 deaths. The lockdown is due to remain in place at least until 14 April.

The other major condom-producing countries are China, where the coronavirus originated and led to widespread factory shutdowns, and India and Thailand, where infections are rising.

Makers of other critical items such as medical gloves have also faced hiccups in their operations in Malaysia.

“The good thing is that the demand for condoms is still very strong because, like it or not, it’s still an essential to have,” Goh said. “Given that at this point in time people are probably not planning to have children. It’s not the time, with so much uncertainty.”

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