The government and manufacturers of face masks are facing a growing challenge to keep up with demand amid the coronavirus outbreak, fueling concern that shortages of such items will continue for some time and leading to frantic searches by many people for stores that still have supplies.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged to ensure 600 million masks will be made available in Japan every month, but an industry body has cast doubt over that possibility.

"That was not an announcement from us," a source from the Japan Hygiene Products Industry Association said recently.