Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday the government will distribute reusable cloth face masks to roughly 50 million households as stocks of disposable masks have run out at drugstores and other shops amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The distribution, which will start later this month, is part of the economic package the government will compile next week. Each household with a registered postal address will receive two washable cloth masks, Abe told a meeting of a government task force.
“We believe (providing the reusable masks) will be helpful in responding to the rapidly increasing demand,” said Abe, wearing a mask himself.
The government will prioritize providing masks to areas where coronavirus infections have been confirmed to be on the rise, Abe said.
Although the government has promoted the production of disposable masks, they are still in short supply due to surging demand and slumping imports from virus-hit China. Japan has a population of over 126 million.
Japan has scrambled to avert an explosive surge in infections. So far, 3,000 cases, including about 700 from a quarantined cruise ship, have been reported.
Japanese people are used to wearing face masks, especially during hay fever season. The country has seen panic-buying of face masks in the wake of the outbreak, and the government has banned the reselling of face masks online amid rampant price-gouging.
Your news needs your support
Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.