Japan is experiencing a shortage of medical thermometers due to the spread of the novel coronavirus, as more businesses require employees to test their temperatures before going to work.
Unlike disposable face masks and disinfectant, the sudden increase in demand for thermometers is expected to settle in time, but some are being sold in online auctions for exorbitant prices.
At Omron Healthcare Co., a unit of leading Japanese electronics company Omron Corp. headquartered in Kyoto, orders for thermometers in March were 2.7 times higher than the same period last year.
"January is usually our peak season, but this year we've had the same volume of orders even heading into spring," said a company spokesperson.
Omron has strengthened its production system by extending working hours and adding weekend shifts, while major medical equipment manufacturer Terumo Corp. is also in the process of increasing production of thermometers.
Several drugstores in Osaka Prefecture have seen sales of thermometers increase ninefold in March compared with the previous year.
"Since a fever of over 37.5 degrees was marked as one of the symptoms (of COVID-19), there has been an increase in stores running out of stock," said an industry source.
On a Yahoo online auction site, thermometers retailing for around 2,000 yen ($19) can be seen listed for around triple the price. Although the government in March banned the reselling of face masks online amid rampant price gouging, thermometers were not included.
"In light of the social climate, we will consider addressing the issue in cooperation with all parties concerned," said a spokesperson for Yahoo Japan Corp., which operates the auction site.
According to Omron, thermometers generally have a life of around five years. Another manufacturer predicts that distribution will return to normal once people in need have been provided with thermometers as they can be used for a long time.
But some local governments are struggling to address the shortage of thermometers in facilities accepting patients with mild cases of the pneumonia-causing virus.
Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo, has decided to ask for thermometers to be donated.