National

Japanese government to lift resale ban on masks as makers offset shortages

Kyodo

The government said Friday it will lift a ban on reselling face masks and disinfectants because suppliers have ramped up production enough to resolve nationwide shortages spurred by the coronavirus.

Punishable by up to a year in prison, a ¥1 million ($9,500) fine or both, the ban was imposed to deter scalpers. It is expected to be lifted this month, although the exact timing isn’t immediately clear.

The government is also scrapping its plan to deliver an additional 80 million reusable cloth masks to nursing homes and other high-risk facilities, health minister Katsunobu Kato said, amid criticism the “Abenomask” initiative has been a waste of taxpayers’ money.

“Supply has increased significantly and consumers are no longer having difficulty buying (masks and disinfectant),” Kato said at a news conference, adding the ban may be reinstated if deemed necessary.

The resale ban on masks was imposed in mid-March and disinfectant in late May through a revision to the law on “emergency measures for stabilizing the living conditions of the public,” which was enacted in 1973 in response to panic-buying of daily necessities, such as toilet paper, during the Mideast oil crisis.

The government has already distributed 130 million of the masks to households nationwide. The masks were derisively nicknamed as a pun on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic policies, known as Abenomics.

Another 60 million masks were due to be distributed this month to nursing homes, day care centers and facilities for the disabled, and an additional 80 million were to be given out through September.

That last batch will now only be sent to facilities that ask for them, with the government stockpiling the remainder. Roughly 500,000 facilities will be eligible to apply on the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s website from next Wednesday.

The reusable Abenomasks have drawn the ire of opposition parties and the public because they aren’t as effective as the ubiquitous surgical masks often used in springtime by people with allergies or the flu.

Given that the distribution of all cloth masks, including those already given to households, was expected to cost taxpayers more than ¥50 billion, they said the funds could be better spent elsewhere as Japan scrambles to contain the resurgent coronavirus outbreak.

Some celebrities, including actress Kyoko Koizumi, also took to Twitter earlier this week to condemn the plan.

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