I'm wondering if there's not a typo in a recent paper that says that

to control the COVID-19 outbreak, the Chinese government imported more than 2.0 billion facemasks between 24 Jan 2020 and 29 Feb 2020

(FWIW, the claim has been reproduced in the Daily Mail now.)

Are there any other sources corroborating this (gigantic) number? (Did the world even produce 2.0 billion masks in a month? If not, where did they find such stockpiles?)

Actually, regarding production, I did find some more recent figures

the New York Times has reported [on March 23] that China is now producing 116 million masks a day, 12 times its supply prior to the outbreak.

So if China produced about 10 million masks/day earlier, that puts their production (back then) at around 300 million/month. Did the world produce 6-7 times that (back then)? It's not totally implausible, but given that China is usually the major manufacturer for such items, it's not entirely obvious that the claim is true either.

  • 2
    According to the NYT, China made "half the masks produced in the world" and averaged ~20million masks per day.
    – CGCampbell
    Apr 3, 2020 at 23:50
  • @CGCampbell: when? Apr 3, 2020 at 23:50
  • 1
    NYT article published on Feb6. I know that's probably not what you meant, but reading the article, the numbers of certain facts appear to agree with the published paper, in that China makes/made just about half of the world's supply of masks/day". In the body of your question you ask "did the world produce 6-7 times that back then?" ... unless I misunderstand your question, it would be answered no.
    – CGCampbell
    Apr 4, 2020 at 0:06
  • @CGCampbell: the world production being that large is one way China could have imported those 2 billion masks in a month. The other way is if they found existing stockpiles somewhere. So figuring out production figures doesn't quite clinch this question (on China's imports in that month). It just narrows the ways they could have obtained all that in that time period. Apr 4, 2020 at 0:10

1 Answer 1


The article cites to reference 13, which is a CCP source.

The source says (in part):


which, according to google translates as (in part):

From January 24 to February 29, the national customs inspected and released 2.46 billion pieces of epidemic prevention and control materials. 8.21 billion yuan. Among them, a total of 2.4 billion pieces of protective equipment, including 2.02 billion masks, 25.38 million pieces of protective clothing.

  • If no other corroboration comes up, I'll accept this in a few days, meaning we'll have to take China's government word for it. Apr 7, 2020 at 16:55
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    @Fizz there is this partial corroboration by the BBC “China bought 220 million face masks between 24 January and 2 February, with South Korea one of the countries supplying them”. google.com/amp/s/www.bbc.com/news/amp/world-asia-china-51363132
    – DavePhD
    Apr 7, 2020 at 17:39
  • Frankly the latter number (which is roughly 1/10 of the CCP-reported one) looks a lot more realistic as the approximation base for the total number in that period. I suppose they could have found producers and have multiplied that by 4-5 in the rest of the days (the BBC period is about 1 week, the CCP one is about 5 weeks) , or even caused [external] producers to have increased their own production but where did they find such producers? Apr 7, 2020 at 17:44
  • @Fizz but it is only through Feb 2nd. And both start Jan 24th, so they are probably from the same source.
    – DavePhD
    Apr 7, 2020 at 17:48

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