A wool garment manufacturing company says surging COVID-19 cases across the country have led to a leap in demand for woollen face masks.
Queensland-based Merino Country began making woollen face masks back in 2020 and has seen surges in demand ever since, depending on the state of the pandemic.
The rising cases associated with the Omicron variant have led to another such surge.
Owner Kerrie Richards said they had sent masks to customers all across Australia as well as in the United States, UK, Germany, France, the Philippines and Japan.
"We've just been up at the Whitsundays and caught up with a few friends that I went to boarding school with years ago and what was really funny was they all had our masks," she said.
"They're all wearing them and they're in the tropics.
"A lot of people think that wool masks are really hot but they're actually really cool and they breathe.
"That's a big thing, especially up in North Queensland."
The increased demand comes amid state governments across Australia tweaking mask requirements in response to rising case numbers, with Western Australia reintroducing mask mandates just this week.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration does not regulate cloth masks and they are not for use in clinical settings.
Australia's Infection Control Expert Group has previously advised that the effectiveness of different types of cloth mask varies depending on the weave and the number of layers, with at least two to three layers needed.
Reusable cloth masks should be washed after each use or at least daily.
Ms Richards said Merino Country had worked with researchers at the University of Queensland to test different fabrics.
"We tested cotton jersey right up to woven cottons plus our Merino masks and different combinations and cotton jersey fabric you would only get about 20 per cent protection, then the woven cotton with Merino was about 70pc and then the three layer Merino mask, which is a really tight knit, was about 80 to 85pc," she said.
The company went on to send masks to a US laboratory for further testing, which again found that the Merino masks were the most efficient out of the fabrics tested.
Ms Richards said she expected that demand would continue to increase for the masks, particularly amid rising concerns about waste problems associated with the constant use of disposable surgical masks.
"The first batch that we did in March 2020, we did a run of about 1000... I think they were gone in about three days," she said.
"I think the last big run we did was probably 10,000 so we're not manufacturing right now, we have a lot of stock on our shelves.
"The woollen masks don't stop the virus completely and they don't stop moisture so it is still important to be aware of your surroundings and socially distance."
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