High-tech facial masks produced by a Japanese firm have been selling like gangbusters since the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome in South Korea in May, and its already intensified production capacity can’t keep up with demand.

“The sales of our mask rose drastically after May 20” following the report of the first confirmed MERS patient in South Korea, Tsuyoshi Nakagawara, president of Nippon Clever Co. in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, told The Japan Times on Thursday.

Nakagawara said it sold roughly 100,000 of its hand-made Pittarich masks between May 20 and June 10, a tenfold increase compared with the same period last year.

Priced at ¥7,980 to ¥13,980 each, the seven- to eight-layered Pittarich mask features “the world’s finest mesh filters,” with holes only 0.06 microns in size. The mask blocks most virus-bearing droplets, including those of MERS, Nakagawara claimed.

The mask’s filters are also designed to prevent static electricity, which can attract viruses, from building up, according to Nakagawara.

Following the MERS outbreak in South Korea, more than 10 Japanese and South Korean trading firms that distribute goods to drugstores in South Korea contacted the firm, Nakagawara said.

Many individual customers, who have learned about the mask by word of mouth, have ordered it online, including directly from Nippon Clever. But some of them actually come from abroad to Toyahashi and buy the product at the company in person, according to Nakagawara.

“One South Korean customer who visited our office spent ¥600,000 to purchase about 60 Pittarich masks, saying she would hand them out to her family members and relatives,” he said.

Half of all Pittarich sales are now overseas, and about 70 percent of the foreign customers are from South Korea, Nakagawara said. Other overseas customers include Chinese, who have bought them out of concern for MERS as well as health hazards caused by harmful PM2.5 particles, he added.

The mask’s popularity can be attributed to other features as well. It is designed to keep perspiration from building up, making it more comfortable during summer use. Customers can also choose to have a mask specially made for them to ensure a better fit.

Pittarich masks also come in different fabrics and designs.

In light of the growing demand, the company hired five additional people and is running its factory seven days a week. However, it still can’t keep up with demand.

“We might need to stop accepting orders for the mask by the end of June if the orders don’t drop off,” Nakagawara said.

The Pittarich mask was originally developed for the 2012 MERS outbreak in the Middle East and went on sale in January last year, according to Nakagawara. Last October, the firm donated 10,000 masks to the Ebola-hit African nations of Guinea and Liberia, as well as to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

On Thursday, the South Korean government announced that 23 people have died and more than 6,700 are quarantined in homes and medical institutions, according to media reports.

It is not yet fully understood how people become infected with the MERS coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization. It says the virus does not seem to pass easily from person to person unless there is close contact.

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