The Japanese government is considering stockpiling most of the additional cloth masks it intended to deliver mainly to nursing care facilities to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus following criticism of the plan from opposition parties and some members of the public, a government source said.
Originally, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had aimed to start distribution of the 80 million cloth masks in late July.
Now the government is considering giving cloth masks only to nursing care facilities wishing for the products while stockpiling the remainder, the source said.
The government has already provided 130 million cloth masks to households nationwide.
Aside from distribution to the general public, it also planned to hand out 150 million cloth masks to nursing care facilities and pregnant women from March to September, including the 80 million masks in question.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will arrange the specific schedule for distributing cloth masks to nursing care facilities, the source said.
In a gathering of opposition parties on Thursday, a ministry official admitted that the government has given up on starting the distribution this month, telling participating lawmakers that the intended late-July delivery "will be reviewed from various perspectives."
Since the spread of the coronavirus earlier this year, the government has been providing citizens with washable cloth masks that have become known as "Abenomasks," a pun on Abe's signature "Abenomics" economic policy mix.
Some Japanese celebrities have also taken to Twitter earlier this week to condemn the distribution of additional masks, characterizing the government's actions as inefficient and wasteful.© KYODO