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KYODO

The reselling of face masks for profit will become a crime punishable by a one-year prison term or a ¥1 million ($9,800) fine — or both — as demand surged amid the growing coronavirus epidemic, the government said Tuesday.

The new rule, aimed at preventing would-be profiteers from taking advantage of a nationwide shortage of the masks, will take effect March 15.

Reselling face masks at the same price they were purchased for, or at lower prices, will still be allowed, a trade ministry official said, stressing that the rule is not meant to keep people from distributing them to friends and family.

“We want to ensure that the average consumer can get their hands on masks,” the official said.

The rule will be implemented through a revision to a law enacted in response to panic-buying during the 1973 oil crisis.

While other products such as disinfectants and diapers may be added later if deemed necessary, the government plans to lift the rule after demand returns to normal.

The ministry had asked e-commerce firms to temporarily suspend online auctions of face masks starting on March 14, but the step was not enough to discourage resellers.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has vowed to boost the country’s supply of face masks to 600 million a month, with a particular focus on providing them to nursing facilities.

But manufacturers have struggled to meet the sudden surge in demand, with empty shelves at drug stores and supermarkets becoming a common sight in recent weeks.

The problem has been exacerbated as what little stock exists is snapped up by resellers and offered at exorbitant prices via e-commerce websites such as Rakuten and Mercari.

In a prominent example of price-gouging, an assemblyman in Shizuoka Prefecture was revealed to have made ¥8.9 million off of selling packets of 2,000 face masks via online auctions for between ¥30,000 to ¥170,000 each. He later apologized.

The trade ministry official said it was unclear whether the assemblyman, 53-year-old Hiroyuki Morota, could have been charged under the new rule because he runs a trading company and may not be classified as a reseller.

Article first published in The Japan Times on March 16

Warm up

One-minute chat about what you need now.

Game

Collect words related to mask

e.g., hay fever, cold, doctor, etc.

New words

1) surge: rise rapidly, e.g., “The candidate saw a surge of support.”

2) epidemic: widespread outbreak of infectious disease; the negative result of a sudden development, e.g., “The Lehman Shock resulted in an epidemic of home foreclosures.”

3) exacerbate: to make things more violent or severe, e.g., “If a drunk person starts acting rude, don’t exacerbate the situation by yelling — just walk away.”

Guess the headline

Japan to punish the reselling of masks with a year in prison, fines or both

Questions

1) What is the aim of the new rule?

2) Does the rule include products other than face masks?

3) Will assemblyman Hiroyuki Morota be charged for reselling?

Let’s discuss the article

1) Are you having a hard time buying products during the coronavirus scare?

2) What do you think about the new rule?

3) Experts say masks don’t stop you from catching the new coronavirus, why do we wear them?

Reference

コロナウイルスの影響が長期化するなかで、マスクの不足が連日続いています。それに伴い、高くてもマスクを手に入れたいと思う人々の不安に便乗した悪質な転売が話題になっています。悪知恵の働く人は、様々な手段を使って人々の不安を個人の利益へと変えようとしているのでしょう。そのような行為を阻止しながら、本当に必要な人に必要なものができるだけ公平にわたるようにするために、私たちができることは何なのでしょうか。

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