As the deadly coronavirus continues to send jitters worldwide, panic-stricken countries are looking at ways to combat the spread.
To limit the spread of the virus, hospitals in China are using Swiss manufacturer IQ Air's purifiers. The air purifiers gained prominence in 2002 when the Hong Kong Hospital Authority deployed its air purifiers in facilities treating patients.
In an interaction with Moneycontrol, CEO Jens Hammes outlined the company's plans and explained how his company's product can help in dealing with the epidemic.
Q. How does IQ Air purifier help combat coronavirus?
A good air purifier can trap coronavirus. Filtering a virus is quite easy. However, the challenge is knowing where does the virus come from. At present, there is not enough proof that it is transmitted through the airborne route. In radical terms, it would be the route through which the virus travels over larger distances, carried through pollution particles, enters through the ventilation system from one room to the other. There is no proof that it is transmitted through airborne route.
In hospitals, patients with suspected cases are placed in an isolation room and are typically given a mask to wear to prevent tiny droplets from being projected two meters away and keep them from infecting it.
During the SARS virus outbreak in 2002 in Hong Kong, they tried a different approach and placed an IQ Air purifier next to the patient bed with a suction duct. A normal IQ Air system is generally used for industrial applications and dental offices. This suction duct was placed near the patient's head. They asked the patient to cough and sneeze into that opening, ensuring that a lot of the infectious matter would be sucked away and not get circulated into the ambient air.
Q. Is an air purifier suitable for prevention of infection in normal homes?
When one member of the family is sick and the person may have caught the virus, then it makes sense to have an air purifier in the person's room. But, it doesn't make sense that any company could market it as 'prevention from coronavirus'. Filtration can capture the virus. But in most cases, an air purifier cannot effectively protect you from the virus.
Q. Since the coronavirus outbreak, which countries have shown interest in the air purifiers?
The Hong Kong Hospital Authority ordered IQ air purifiers in 2003. Several hundred were sent on a freight to the hospitals when coronavirus first broke out in January. Now, we have orders from China, South Korea among other Asian countries such as Thailand and Vietnam where they want to prepare effectively as they lack infection control rooms.
Generally, sales have increased for our clean room units. Normal units have also been ordered by hospitals.
Q. How do you see yourself placed in the Indian market?
We have a different market penetration in India, compared with other Asian countries. We are an established brand name in Asia, especially in China. In India, we are a new entry to the market. We are more active in the home and offices segment.
Sometimes, in some countries, gaining access to the medical market sector is difficult as there are exclusive players. The coronovirus crisis may give us much more exposure to the hospital markets sector. Many healthcare institutions are ill-equipped at the moment as they don't have sufficient isolation rooms.
With IQ Air, you can turn a normal room into isolation room within half an hour. All you need is a duct detachment and a hole in the wall in the corridor to exhaust the filter air.
Q. So, is it only a matter of adoption by hospitals?
Yes. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention in US has issued an advisory. There are standard precautions that you need to take for affected patients along with contact precautions and airborne precautions. Airborne precaution means you need an isolation room. This is a single room where you create negative pressure with a HEPA filter unit and create 6 air changes per hour in order to ensure micro organism levels are very low in that room.
Q. Given that India is a price sensitive market, how do you plan to compete here?
I see the challenge in convincing the end user that IQ Air is the best value for money. The consumer will select air purifier by online research and will look at the technical specifications. On paper, a manufacturer claims that the purifier produces 99.97 percent clean air .
We trust that the discerning Indian customer is smart and demands value for money. The longevity of the product and the high quality is better. The filter replacement availability is guaranteed for 15 years. This element has helped us when it comes to competition.
Other European and American brands simply instruct customers to replace filters every 6 months, irrespective of the degree of use and the pollution level of the environment it was used in. We offer longevity filters.
Many products come with a built in obsolescence, on purpose. In the air cleaning industry, this is done in different ways. By stopping the supply of replacement filters, the product becomes obsolete.
Q. Sales of air purifiers are linked with rising air pollution levels. Do you see a certain degree of denial among people?
While the threat is not immediate, you are shortening your lifespan by years. With the World Air Quality report, we help compare outdoor air quality with indoor air quality. You can decide for yourself whether the pollution levels are threatening your family and is acceptable or not. We believe in helping people make an informed decision. However, it needs to be real time data. If a government has chances to take measurements of outdoor air quality but only releases their data in a few hours, it gives the government the chance to manipulate the data.