The government is poised to expropriate unreasonably high-priced face masks for domestic distribution to ease shortages amid the coronavirus outbreak, Jiji Press learned Saturday.

The compulsory measure is expected to be taken as the government enhances crackdowns on unscrupulous mask sellers making so-called “unjust profits” through resale at increased prices, sources said.

A recently revised law allows the government to carry out expropriations where a state of emergency is in place. The government declared such an emergency for Tokyo and various other areas in response to the COVID-19 crisis on April 7, expanding the measure to cover the entire nation on April 16.

The government will investigate whether any companies and other entities are stockpiling masks in expectation of price increases.

If the government judges such practices as “unjust,” prefectural governments will be able to request that the companies sell the masks or expropriate them under Article 55 of the law.

The government, through the health and industry ministries, will gather more information on the current situation and carry out on-site inspections to check mask inventories and procurement costs.

With the shortages showing little sign of abating, the government has called on companies outside the mask manufacturing industry, such as Sharp Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., to produce masks.

Last month, the government introduced a ban on the online resale of masks at marked up prices.

Public concern over the availability of masks has increased further due to increases in the number of coronavirus patients and deaths.

“Securing stable a mask supply is an important policy task,” a government official said.

But it would be necessary for the government to clearly define what constitutes “unjust profits” and “appropriate prices” before taking compulsory measures, others have warned.

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