Vivek Kohli, a sports goods manufacturer, recently got calls from his doctor friends in Meerut. They weren’t seeking table tennis equipment, which his company Stag International specialises in. Instead, the doctors requested Kohli to manufacture gowns, masks, face shields, and shoes for them.
Days later, Meerut commissioner Anita Meshram reached out to Kohli and other sports goods manufacturers in the city, asking if they could help meet the increasing demand for Personal Protective Equipment for frontline workers battling the coronavirus outbreak. Soon, another producer, VATS Sports began production of PPEs with 40 percent of its workforce to ensure that social distancing norms were followed.
Meerut, where 85 Covid-19 cases were reported as on April 23, is one of the hotspots and has been sealed by the authorities. And doing their bit to help the corona warriors are companies from one of the world’s biggest sports goods manufacturing hubs, who have shifted from making kits or sportswear for athletes to producing PPE for frontline workers during the pandemic.
Kohli, the co-chairman of Stag International – a major manufacturer of table tennis equipment and sponsors of 60 national teams across the world – said they have sent their samples, some made from ‘a type of fabric used for the lining of kit bags’, to the Directorate of Industries in Meerut, which has forwarded them to a central agency for approval.
“We are making gowns, masks, face shields, and shoes as part of the PPE kits,” Kohli said. “Initially, samples of what we made had gone to the Uttar Pradesh medical board for approval and they asked us for some very minor changes. This week, the samples have gone for approval. I am sure it will be approved because top doctors in Meerut have already used it and are wearing it and we have done our tests. Once it is approved, we can supply it in bigger volumes and at a reasonable price because this is a crisis and we need to protect our doctors and frontline workers.”
Shortage of PPE, which reduce the chance of frontline workers getting infected, has been reported from around the globe, including India, since the outbreak of the pandemic. “The chronic, global shortage of personal protective equipment is one of the most urgent threats to our collective ability to save lives,” World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said.
Apart from doctors, police personnel are also using PPE made in the sports goods manufacturing facility in Meerut. The manufacturing wasn’t without its challenges and manufactures like Stag had to adapt to the need of the hour and experiment fast.
Water-resistant fabric used for making tracksuits didn’t work for PPE. “Initially, I tried with the tracksuit material but water sprayed with pressure was going through. Basically, PPE requirements state that it should not penetrate. So we got another fabric from our supplier, which is now being used for PPE,” Kohli said.
“It is a type of fabric used for the lining of kit bags but the ones used for PPE is thicker, some of it needs to be of 120 GSM (grams per square metre) thickness. India is a hot country and it is summer now so the fabric needs to be breathable. At the same time, it needs to be water-resistant. Some other people made it with plastic, some made it with raincoat material. However, that does not work.”
Kohli added that constant feedback is being taken from doctors about the gowns to ensure quality control.
Another popular brand, VATS Sports, also based in Meerut, has begun production of PPE. They have bagged a contract with the Northern Railways. “For the last one week, we are making gowns. They (Northern Railways) are providing us with the raw material. We have made about 1,500 gowns on machines used to make jerseys and track pants for various sports,” Navneet Vats, partner of the sports goods manufacturer said. “We will only be able to slowly scale up production because we have to take all precautions, maintain a high level of hygiene and ensure everyone is protected while producing PPE.”
VATS, Stag and Sanspareils Greenlands (SG), the company which manufactures cricket balls for Test matches in India, have seen their revenues taking a hit because of the ongoing lockdown. Sports events are still months away and with a similar scenario all over the world, exports have ground to a halt. “This used to be the peak season for us. The IPL is usually held now, academies are open and there are so many summer camps held during this time of the year. There is a lot of demand for all kinds of sports equipment. However, this is a unique situation and we have to do whatever we can to help control the spread of coronavirus,” Vats said.