China mask exports surged in 2020 as the country exported more than 220 billion masks. This is equivalent to 40 masks for every person outside China.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce attributed this large number to the high demand for protective equipment due to the global pandemic.
Masks exports have become a significant driver of Chinese exports after the virus nearly froze economic activity in early 2020.
Vice Minister of Commerce, Qian Keming, told reporters that in addition to masks, China had exported 2.3 billion pieces of prevention gear and one billion units of tests last year, an important contribution to the global battle against the pandemic.
Earlier this month, a customs official said that the value of masks shipments alone amounted to 340 billion yuan ($52.6 billion).
China, where COVID-19 first appeared late 2019, was the first country in the world to recover after it imposed strict lockdown measures and measures to contain the virus, and is expected to achieve positive growth for the past year.
Commerce ministry official Chu Shijia said China still faces a “severe and complex” environment in foreign trade and investment this year.
The new normal
There are still some doubts about the generalization of the use of masks. For instance, not everyone in the U.S. wears masks, except when public health officials strongly encourage them to do so.
Protests against masks have also appeared across the country. Many Americans say it is a violation of their freedoms.
But for others, who are likely to be the majority, it could become the new normal.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, many people bought masks for the first time in their lives and started to wear them.
Doctors and public health experts believe that American culture can fundamentally shift to adopting newly acquired hygiene practices.
Throughout East Asia, wearing masks spread in the wake of the SARS outbreak in 2003.
The U.S. was largely immune to SARS. But in Hong Kong, where more than 280 people have died, panic is widespread.
All of this led many countries to develop practices on reducing potential disease outbreaks early, with measures such as social distancing, travel bans and masks.