• Kyodo

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made his first public appearance without his state-sponsored mask, which is being derided as a symbol of his administration’s out-of-step policies for the coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of donning what became known as the “Abenomask,” which was so small it rode up on his face, Abe on Saturday seemed to be wearing what appeared to be a commercially available mask that fully covered the lower half of his face.

Abe’s new cloth mask was made in Fukushima Prefecture. He wore it when he attended a government meeting at his office to discuss responses to the pandemic.

“From now on, he will use various products,” a source close to the office said in reference to the change.

Abe started wearing his Abenomask, a pun on his Abenomics economic policies, in April, when the government started providing a pair of the washable cloth masks to each household to offset the nationwide mask shortage.

The masks proved highly unpopular due to their poor quality and slow delivery, with billions of yen spent on the policy. So far 130 million of them have been sent to households nationwide.

Even though shortages are easing, the policy has continued to court controversy.

As a result, the administration is scrapping its plan to deliver an additional 80 million of the reusable cloth masks to nursing homes and other facilities after the initiative was criticized as inefficient and wasteful.

The government is now considering giving the masks only to those who request them and stockpiling the remainder.

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