11 July 2024
Malaysia gloves COVID-19

Malaysia’s Top Glove Corp, the world’s biggest manufacturer of surgical gloves, closes over half of its surgical glove factories after a surge in coronavirus cases among workers.

More than 1,000 cases were recorded Monday, prompting the government to order the plants to close.

Top Glove has seen a huge jump in demand since the start of the pandemic as countries scrambled to stock up on protective equipment, pushing up both its profits and share price.

The company said in a media briefing today that it had not yet seen any cancellation of orders, and that it expected the virus outbreak among its workers to be contained within a month.

“Even if (customers) cancel, it will be a small percentage,” Executive Chairman Lim Wee Chai said, a day after the company predicted a delay in deliveries that would hurt sales in the fiscal year ending Aug 30. 2021.

The company operates 47 factories — 41 in Malaysia — and many of its workers are from Nepal and live in crowded dormitory complexes. Its factories and dormitories in Klang, about 40 km west of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is battling its largest coronavirus cluster since the pandemic began.

In response, authorities have erected barbed wire fences in front of the workers’ hostels to screen and quarantine them, and said they will shut in phases some of Top Glove’s factories.

The affected factories represent about half of Top Glove’s production capacity.

Still, the Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (MARGMA) said on Wednesday it does not anticipate any disruption to supply. “Be assured that new capacity is available to make good the interim shortfall and that there is not going to be any aggravated disruption,” MARGMA said.

Malaysia manufactures just under two-thirds of the world’s rubber gloves, global demand for which has surged in the pandemic, helping Top Glove report record profits. Top Glove can produce more than 70 billion gloves a year and is a major global supplier.

The Security Ministry said on Wednesday that the factories have 11,215 employees, and that 2,684 have tested positive out of 5,795 screened. It has asked for more than 2,200 workers outside the affected zone be screened as well.

Top Glove said on Wednesday it was continuing to screen employees for COVID-19 and expects confirmed cases to fall going forward. The majority of those tested were asymptomatic, it said.

In response to a question from Reuters, Lim said there was no risk of the gloves it made getting contaminated, playing down concerns voiced by some analysts.

Lim said that production was fully automated, and that all workers were given masks and protective gear when they were packing and had no direct contact with the products.

Top Glove has about 16,000 factory employees and runs 47 plants in Malaysia, Thailand, China and Vietnam, with 36 of them producing gloves.