PADUA, Italy—Andrea Deregibus and the 100-plus staff members at his specialty hose company have seen firsthand the devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic in Italy.
While no employees of Tubigomma Deregibus s.r.l., located in Padua in the Northeastern part of Italy, have tested positive for coronavirus—nor have members of their families—neither have they been immune to the impact of the virus.
"All of us, we know someone who is either ill or in the hospital, or is dead," said Deregibus, general manager and chief operating officer of the firm, which does business as Tudertechnica. "One friend, who worked with us in the past, we found out last week died from coronavirus. Yesterday, we talked with another friend, who has been in the hospital three weeks."
As of April 2, the country had seen more than 105,000 positive cases and in excess of 12,000 deaths. The nationwide lockdown was set to last until at least April 13.
Yet through it all, the company has remained operational as it appeals an order that came down March 25 from Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, which Deregibus said effectively shut down virtually all rubber manufacturing in Italy.
Tudertechnica appealed the ruling March 26, asking for an exemption since 94 percent of its hoses are used in such strategic sectors as pharmaceutical, chemical, food and beverage, energy and others, said Deregibus. He discussed the situation in a March 30 telephone interview with Rubber & Plastics News, along with Andrea Compostella, the firm's marketing and sales manager, and Pete Cannon, the hose maker's marketing consultant in North America.
In support of its appeal, Tudertechnica collected 83 letters from distributors around the world, asking the Italian government to keep the factory operational to "continue to fill the supply chain of our essential products," Deregibus said.
One letter came from a distributor in China, saying Tudertechnica's rubber-covered PTFE hoses are used by the company to make a raw material which is used in a medicine to help fight coronavirus in China. Without it, Deregibus said the Chinese company would have to stop production.
As of April 2, Tudertechnica still was awaiting word on the appeal, and its 100,000-sq.-ft. factory remains operational.
Cannon said the firm's distributors in North America—the hose maker does business exclusively through distribution—have been extremely supportive, and were among those who drafted letters in support of the appeal.
"From a North American perspective, our customers are very aware of the severity of the outbreak affecting Italy," Cannon said. "The one word I would say is 'concern.' They are concerned about health, safety and recovery.
"They also indicated that it is critical for them to continue filling the pipeline and supply chain because Tudertechnica products are used in strategic and critical industries."
He added that the distributors in the U.S. with whom the hose maker works are in the "essential category," able to continue operations amid the flurry of shutdowns across many parts of the nation.
As Tudertechnica's specialty hoses are used in critical industries, Compostella said they also are not easily replaced. "Some products have really kind of unique constructions," he said, adding that other producers don't have equivalent products for substitution.
COVID-19 hits radar
Deregibus said the pandemic really began to hit home in early March, when the Italian prime minister went on television to announce that everything in Italy would be shut down.
"At the time, I was out with my wife on bicycles," he said. "We were seeing all the bars and restaurants full of people. I was saying, 'I don't know if people understand there is something wrong here.' "
Some of the spread likely is because Italians are "social animals," he said.
"They go to restaurants, they go to bars, they go to discos," Deregibus said. "And they stay in the square. We live in the square. Now we live at home."