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The health ministry said Tuesday it had received about 85,000 applications as of Thursday for free cloth face masks left in storage after being procured by the government following the COVID-19 outbreak.

The ministry extended the deadline for the application from next Friday to Jan. 28.

Some 80.54 million such masks were left in storage as of the end of November, according to the ministry.

The masks are called “Abenomasks,” a pun on Abenomics, the pro-growth economic policy of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who announced in April 2020 a plan for distributing two cloth masks each to every household in the country in the fight against the pandemic.

The ministry plans to distribute such masks for free of charge to local governments and individuals who wish to have them as it is costly to dispose of them. It started accepting applications for the distribution program on Dec. 24.

After the distribution, the ministry plans to sell remaining masks to companies and others and discard the rest around March.

Last month, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced a plan to dispose of such masks after being grilled over high costs to store them.

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