Amid the state of emergency extension called by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the two government masks being sent to each household to fend off the coronavirus have only arrived in Tokyo.
Delivery to the rest of Japan is scheduled to be completed by the end of the month — when the extension is set to end.
Around 5.6 million of the so-called Abenomasks had been distributed in the capital as of Wednesday under the ¥46.6 billion plan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday. The derisive term is a pun on Abenomics, the prime minister’s economic policy.
Delivery will start next week in other prefectures with relatively high infection rates, such as Osaka, he said.
“We will secure quality masks that people feel are safe to use and deliver them,” Suga said at a news conference.
The unpopular plan is aimed at curbing high demand for elusive masks amid the deadly pandemic. Critics have questioned how effective the ¥46.6 billion ($440 million) plan will be in slowing the virus. Some say the masks are too small and that two isn’t enough to protect an entire family.
After reports of defects in masks that were first delivered to pregnant women led to a recall, the government had to bolster quality checks.
As for the public mask supply in general, Suga said about 800 million masks are expected to be made available at retailers this month, up from about 700 million in April, making them a bit easier to obtain.
Abe extended the state of emergency for all 47 prefectures until May 31. But 13, including Kyoto, Aichi, Hokkaido, Fukuoka and the prefectures around Tokyo, have been designated as needing “special caution.” Tokyo has by far the largest number of coronavirus cases.
Abe, who has been struggling to hit the right note on the government’s coronavirus response, is asking people to adopt “new lifestyles” as the country gradually returns to normalcy. Government medical experts are recommending masks be worn when talking and going outside.
After the Golden Week holidays officially ended Wednesday, Suga started wearing a mask with a stitched design unique to the indigenous Ainu, the ethnic minority in Hokkaido. The design is meant to ward off illness and
Suga said the mask was a gift.
Some members of Abe’s Cabinet are also wearing masks.
As for the government’s other coronavirus measures, many people are complaining the ¥100,000 cash handouts promised to each resident are taking too long to distribute even though the extra budget devised to finance the measure has already cleared the Diet.
There are basically two ways to get the money — by applying online or via mail. But the unpopular My Number resident registration card is required for online applications, and only about 16 percent of the public has one.