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The industry ministry will ask online auction companies to voluntarily stop listing face masks from their websites, amid supply shortages caused by the spread of COVID-19 infections, it was learned Thursday.

Face masks have been in short supply mostly in urban areas, in part because some individuals and businesses have been buying all of those available at retail stores, according to ministry officials.

The situation has not improved even though the supply of face masks has risen to around 100 million units per week.

Those selling face masks at high prices on auction websites are believed to have been hoarding them.

The ministry will set a grace period before the voluntary sales halt by auction companies in order to incentivise such sellers to unload their stock of the face masks.

According to a mask manufacturing industry group, makers had a total of 1.8 billion face masks in stock in January but it was almost completely depleted by early February.

Meanwhile, the Japan Fair Trade Commission on Thursday has asked drug store chain operators not to bundle face masks together with expensive products.

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