US disinfectant maker boosts output as China hospitals battle virus

U.S. manufacturer Decon7 Systems is stepping up production of a powerful disinfectant at six facilities, from three, to fill surging demand from hospitals in China grappling with a virus epidemic, the firm's founder, Joe Drake, told Reuters on Monday.

As hospitals in the central province of Hubei and neighboring regions struggle to rein in a new coronavirus that has killed 361 people and infected more than 17,000, demand has swelled during the last fortnight.

"This is off the charts," Drake said by telephone. "They want everything we can manufacture."

China has repeatedly said it is short of key medical supplies in the worst-hit areas, including basic gear to protect medical workers, such as face masks and protective suits.

With hospitals in the cities of Wuhan, Jingzhou, Xiaogan and Changde all requesting disinfectant, Decon 7 will run double shifts at three new facilities in the United States from this week, in addition to three sites already in operation, Drake added.

The company hopes to air freight seven containers of product, each containing 80,000 pounds, or about 36 tonnes, this week to hasten delivery that normally takes three to four weeks by sea, he said.

"It's not hard to make the product, but it's the packaging," Drake added. "They want it in small sizes, which are easier for staff to handle."

The Scottsdale, Arizona company, which supplies major food processors and poultry farms in the United States, started shipping its hydrogen peroxide-based product to China last year to decontaminate farms infected with deadly African swine fever.

On Saturday, Beijing waived a duty of 48% it has levied on the product because of its trade war with the United States, with the finance ministry saying it had implemented a temporary exemption on U.S. products aimed to help curb the outbreak.

The disinfectant, known as D7, works by attacking viruses and killing the virus RNA.

Effective for up to 8 hours in a wide range of temperatures, it is being sprayed in hospital areas where virus patients have been treated, in order to kill particles left on surfaces, equipment or in ventilation systems, Drake said.

Large slaughterhouses and industrial farms typically buy the product in multi-gallon drums.

The southeast Asian city-state of Singapore has also asked for a price quote for 1 million face masks and 1 million bottles of hand sanitiser, Drake added.

With its manufacturing operations in the United States, the firm has escaped the production woes facing mask makers in China.