Pop-up shops, textile firms move into Pakistan’s frenzied mask market

A street vendor sells face masks at Bolton Market in Karachi. (AN photo)
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Updated 25 July 2020

Pop-up shops, textile firms move into Pakistan’s frenzied mask market

  • Medical suppliers and health care industry officials complain the frenzy to produce masks has broken down standard quality controls, opening the market to an influx of masks of uncertain effectiveness

KARACHI: As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread across Pakistan, a chaotic market has sprung up for face masks.
In the early days, frontline medical staff and the public clamored for masks and other personal protective equipment, as production companies in Pakistan and around the world struggled with a host of obstacles, from illness to freight costs, from hoarding to a supply squeeze on filter fabric.
In Pakistan, which has recorded more than 270,000 infections so far, the shortage of masks was so acute in March and April that health workers took to social media to appeal for help and citizens hoarded supplies, pushing prices by up to 2,000 percent.
But these problems are a thing of the past as hundreds of new mask brokers and businesses have emerged around the country.
“I lost my job after the coronavirus pandemic triggered lockdowns and all businesses were shut down, but now I am happy because I have found a better alternative,” said Owais Ahmed, a manager at a garment factory who has been selling masks at a stall in Karachi’s Bolton Market for the past two months.
Every day, Ahmed said, he sells up to 20 boxes of masks (an average box has 50 masks), with each box costing up to 600 rupees ($3.5). The hot commodity in the mask trade, the N95 device, which is sturdier than surgical masks and has a better filter, sells for 300 rupees a piece.
Abdul Samad Memon, the senior vice chairman of the Pakistan Chemist and Druggists Association, said a box of surgical masks imported from China for up to 100 rupees sold for as much as 2,300 rupees in March.
But raids by the authorities pushed prices slowly down, and more production units had been set up as major textile firms switched their assembly lines to mask manufacturing.
Ijaz Khokhar, the chief coordinator for the Pakistan Readymade Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association, said many textile units operating in Faisalabad, Lahore and Karachi had switched entirely to producing masks for both local supply and export. On average, he said, 500,000 to 600,000 masks were being produced a day at textile factories in Faisalabad city alone.
In early March, the World Health Organization estimated that 89 million medical masks were required for the COVID-19 response each month, which required a 40 percent increase in manufacturing globally.
Medical suppliers and health care industry officials complain the frenzy to produce masks has broken down standard quality controls, opening the market to an influx of masks of uncertain effectiveness.
Manufacturers claim they have met all quality standards for masks for export, especially to the United States and the United Kingdom, and were working hard to bridge “quality deficiencies” in masks supplied to local buyers.
As virus infections have steadily declined around the world, vendors have begun to fear for the prospects of their new businesses.
“I think the mask business will continue for the whole year,” said Shahzad Ahmed Siddiqui, who switched to selling masks when his readymade garments business closed due to coronavirus lockdowns.
But Owais Ahmed feared the mask business would soon decline.
“The business will continue up to Eid Al-Adha,” he said as he arranged masks at his store. “Maximum business will go on for 15 to 20 days, not beyond that.”


Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

Updated 22 September 2020

Malaysia welcomes its first halal TV streaming service

  • Service attracts more than 10,000 subscribers since July

KUALA LUMPUR: Netflix could soon have competition from a homegrown entertainment platform in Malaysia which, its makers say, will cater to Muslims’ “halal TV” needs based on Islamic values.

Dubbed “Nurflix,” the platform is Malaysia’s first Shariah-compliant streaming service and has attracted more than 10,000 subscribers since July.

Nurflix is the creation of Syah Rizal Mohamed, who wants to produce and release original content for the platform before its official launch in January.

“We spent $9.7 million for the startup, but the company will produce 1,000 (items of) original content in multiple categories like mainstream, educational, spiritual and motivational and kids, with about 12,000 episodes in the first five years of operating,” the 43-year-old CEO told Arab News.

He also plans for Nurflix to acquire content from local and international producers, as long as they align with the service’s production guidelines, with a focus on markets in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore before setting up internationally.

“We see ourselves covering the Southeast Asian region in the next five years with our readiness to establish hubs in the Middle East and Europe to gain traction in the international market.”

He said the decision to tap into the streaming service market was driven by the rapid growth of video-on-demand media and consumers choosing this, as well as over-the-top subscription services, as their main form of entertainment. 

Consumers agreed that there was a market for a halal content platform.

“The Islamic streaming service just enriches the Islamic entertainment ecosystem because there is a niche for it,” 25-year-old public relations executive Puteri N. Balqis told Arab News.

Media consultant Amir Hadi Azmi said a Shariah-compliant streaming service was an interesting niche, particularly for more conservative users, but that the concept was not unique to Islam or Muslims.

“In America, for example, there is a service called Pure Flix which caters to more conservative Christian viewers,” he told Arab News.

Amir Muhammad, managing director of Kuman Pictures, said that as a producer, the more outlets that were made available to content producers and filmmakers, the better. Kuman Pictures, which is known for releasing horror and thriller content, could create appropriate content if need be.

“I have not seen their actual guidelines, but if they want halal horror, we will give them halal horror,” he told Arab News.

The Nurflix CEO said there would be a Content Advisory Council and that it would be headed and supervised by Habib Ali Zaenal Abidin Al Hamid and the Honorable Ustaz Raja Ahmad Mukhlis.

“Productions, including third-party content providers, will be monitored by the council to ensure the end product abides by the set guidelines. Nurflix is unique in the market because it is not just offering Islamic-guided content. The production will be monitored by the council to ensure all aspects of work are conducted in a Shariah-compliant manner.”

Although there is no formal collaboration with the Islamic Affairs Department, he said that Nurflix’s ideas and concepts had already been shared with Islamic Affairs Minister Dr. Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri.

When contacted by Arab News, the director-general of Malaysia’s Department of Islamic Development Paimuzi Yahya said his department was still working on “collaborating with the streaming service” and declined to comment further.