The delivery of two masks per household devised by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to counter the coronavirus began Saturday in the 34 prefectures yet to receive them, despite the majority by now having no or relatively few infections.
Residents in the areas, which include Miyagi and Nara prefectures, criticized the government for acting too slowly on his ¥46.6 billion mask program, given that Abe has already lifted the national state of emergency in 42 of the 47 prefectures and is expected to clear the rest, including Tokyo, on Monday.
Deliveries in Tokyo, Osaka and 11 other prefectures with higher infection rates began earlier this month, though the unpopular but washable masks — dubbed “Abenomasks” as a pun on Abenomics, the prime minister’s economic policies, have yet to arrive at some households in the capital.
In Sendai, a local worker, Toru Takahashi, said he won’t use the masks because shortages have already eased and they are now widely available.
“How much time and taxpayer money has the government spent to just send two masks?” Takahashi, 59, asked.
Critics are mocking the costly program. Some say the masks are too small and others pointed out that two masks per household isn’t particularly helpful for families.
But not everyone was unhappy with the news.
“It is quite rare to receive masks from the government. I’m happy to hear that the masks will finally arrive,” said Ayumi Sato, 18, a university student in Kumamoto Prefecture.
Government officials say the masks were aimed at curbing demand during shortages that emerged in the early stages of the pandemic.
Despite the state of emergency having been lifted in the vast majority of the country, infectious disease experts have been calling on the public to remain alert for a second wave of infections.