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Using the Fugaku supercomputer, the world’s fastest, a consortium of Japanese researchers has developed a wrap-around face shield that can more effectively block airborne droplets and reduce exposure to the coronavirus for diners at pubs and restaurants.

With many restaurants struggling to make ends meet as customers stay away over concerns of infection, Toppan Printing Co. and Suntory Liquors Ltd. launched an initiative to develop an effective face shield that could be worn while dining out. They sought help from the state-backed Riken research institute, which created the Fugaku supercomputer jointly with Fujitsu Ltd.

A computer illustration of a new face shield design by Toppan Printing Co. and Suntory Liquors Ltd. | COURTESY OF TOPPAN PRINTING CO.
A computer illustration of a new face shield design by Toppan Printing Co. and Suntory Liquors Ltd. | COURTESY OF TOPPAN PRINTING CO.

The computer simulation has found that a typical face shield that covers only the mouth would block only about 30% of oral droplets from spreading through the air. After studying various options using the supercomputer, the team has confirmed that the chosen design can block about 70% of droplets with a bowl-shaped design that covers a wider area from the chin to the nose.

The face shield is made of a transparent thermoplastic material and its mouth covering can be easily moved to the side so that people can eat while wearing it. The product, which also protects the eyes, is now being tested at several restaurants in the Tokyo area.

Toppan said it plans to make the final computer-aided design available for free to the public so that any manufacturer can produce it. A Toppan spokesman said the company was in charge of the development and manufacturing of the face shield and that it was open to taking manufacturing orders from other firms.

The consortium said it hopes that sales of the face shield will begin in time for December bōnenkai (traditional year-end drinking parties).

“By making it possible for everyone to produce and use it, we’re hoping that it can be disseminated rapidly in Japan to reduce the risk of infection,” Suntory Liquors President Kenji Yamada said at a news conference Tuesday. “I hope that this could serve as a catalyst to revitalize the restaurant industry.”

Suntory Liquors noted that the restaurant industry has been impacted severely by the coronavirus since March. Although the overall industry has seen some recovery in sales since July due to a rise in takeout orders at fast food restaurants, izakaya and other restaurants that mainly serve alcoholic beverages and snacks after work hours have been battered most severely, with sales hovering around only 40% of levels a year earlier despite a modest rebound since the spring.

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