Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday the government will distribute cloth face masks to roughly 50 million households in Japan as stocks of disposable masks have run out at drugstores and other shops amid the coronavirus outbreak.
The distribution, which will start later this month, is part of the economic package that the government will compile next week. Each household with a registered postal address will receive two washable cloth masks, Abe told a meeting of a government task force.
(Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaks at a parliamentary session in Tokyo on April 1, 2020.)
"We believe (providing the reusable masks) will be helpful in responding to the rapidly increasing demand," said Abe while wearing a mask himself.
The government will put a priority on providing masks to areas where coronavirus infections have been confirmed to be on the rise, Abe said.
Although the government has promoted the production of disposable masks, they are still in short supply due to surging demand and slumping imports from virus-hit China. Japan has a population of over 126 million.
Japan has scrambled to avert an explosive surge in infections. So far, 3,000 cases, including about 700 from a quarantined cruise ship, have been reported.
Japanese people are used to wearing face masks, especially during hay fever season. The country has seen panic-buying of face masks in the wake of the outbreak, and the government has banned the reselling of face masks online amid rampant price gouging.