Reusable nano-silver masks: Small factory in Zhuhai producing bacteria-killing masks
By Omar Khan, Chen Yilin & Huang Yi

By now, the hysteria surrounding face masks, their effectiveness and what types of masks actually work, has become a mainstay in the sphere of all things coronavirus. Some see it as excessive, perhaps even useless. Those opposing critics, hail masks as a top quality form of preventative measure, almost a must for anyone venturing outdoors. 

In China, the National Health Commission alongside local authorities have sided with those supporting the usage of masks. Over the past couple of months, masks have seen shortages and recovering supplies. Meanwhile, factories have re-opened boosting their output capacity, though at times still facing staffing difficulties. 

This, however, has all come with strict and managed regulation. Ensuring the quality of this type of protective gear and maintaining stable prices have been a major objective of health authorities and relevant regulators. Where masks come from and who they go to has also been an issue requiring extra monitoring. 

It's been a reality that has evidently helped and hampered some face mask producers. That can be said for Zhuhai-based mask manufacturer Anxin. They've also faced more obstacles due to a unique technology woven into their products – nano-silver technology. 

Speaking about their factory production equipment and assembly, the company's chairman says they're doing their best with what they have. 

"But right now we can only import two, because time-wise, the delivery, the shipment of this equipment, will only come here after April or May. But we think that, at that time, the situation can be controlled," says Li Zhanhong. 

Making use of one fully-automated production line alongside one that requires a full team of workers, has kept their total output at a modest level. Factor in that they use a Grade 3 medical technology, known as nano-silver, has made their previous process of gaining certification and approval, a longer one. 

The company says their masks could make a big difference in the battle against COVID-19. Based on experiments and research by several major institutes in Hong Kong, including Hong Kong Polytechnic, Anxin says the nano-silver layer in their masks can kill bacteria.

"We add special nano-silver additives, which are our company's patented technology. They absorb water, and also humid air as we exhale," says Zhou Jiafa, the company's general manager. 

"The nano-silver particles continuously release ions, which are able to kill viruses and bacteria. After eight hours of use per day, and based on tests conducted by Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the bacteria content of our masks is lower than that of a standard mask. Our masks can be used safely for about seven days."

The development of nano-silver technology in China has been a lengthy process, clearing obstacles like certification and licensing. Over the years Anxin has invested in the research and development of the material, dating back to the 2003 SARS outbreak. With the support of local authorities and an expedited approval process, the company is now able to help in providing medical supplies during the coronavirus outbreak. 

Though there are scientifically-backed results when it comes to this substance being able to kill bacteria, the direct effect it could have on this strain of coronavirus is not established. The masks produced by Anxin are not meant to be an answer to COVID-19, implying nano-silver can eliminate and effectively kill the virus. Instead, the masks are meant to keep masks bacteria free, eliminating other possible hazards. 

Because the masks can almost self-sustain and self-clean, their reusability is a major selling point. Anxin says each mask can be worn for up to eight hours per day for an entire seven-day week. Assuming no tampering or damage is done, while keeping the mask in a dry place while not wearing it, their products could possibly go a long way in reducing waste and the potential transmission of contaminated items. There's also the advantage of using fewer raw materials over the course of production. 

The company says it has recently been granted approval from provincial Guangdong authorities and those in Zhuhai. Throughout March, Anxin will look to have their masks provided to medical institutes, hospitals and other affected areas. The sale of products on the market for regular use is expected to come shortly after.