Surgical Masks Selling Out in Japan as Coronavirus Spreads

Surgical masks are common in Japan as a protection for winter flu or pollen allergy, but this year demand has shot up in the wake of the new coronavirus scare, causing supply shortages within the first week of the outbreak.

In Tokyo’s upscale shopping district of Ginza, residents and tourists alike were buying masks wherever they could find them.

Even sales staff at Japanese department stores have started wearing masks.

Tobu department store put up a notice, saying the rare measure was necessary for health reasons.

Masumi Tsuchida said she started wearing a mask at the hotel where she works, because many Chinese tourists stay there.

The virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Christine Yuuki, a tourist from China, said she was looking for masks to bring back for her friends and family, as they’ve become expensive and hard to find back home.

“In China, masks are very expensive,” she said, adding that one little pack of masks costs more than 100 yuan (US$14). “They are cheaper here and easier to buy.”

But they are disappearing quickly. At pharmacies and convenience stores in popular tourist hubs in downtown Tokyo, supplies are dwindling or are sold out completely.

Iris Ohyama, a major Japanese manufacturer of household goods and home appliances, said it had been flooded with orders from drug stores across Japan for surgical masks since the outbreak.

Sales were three times as high as the previous week, it said.

In order to meet soaring demand, the company’s workers at one of its two factories in China had to cut short their 10-day Lunar New Year holidays to just three days, said company official Yasuyuki Shibata.

But the impact on the wider Japanese economy will be negative, with transportation companies likely to be among the sectors hardest hit, according to Toshihiro Nagahama, chief economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

Nagahama calculated that if the coronavirus outbreak lasts for four months, like the SARS outbreak in 2002-2003, Japan could suffer a 520 billion yen (4.76 billion US dollar) drop in GDP.

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Category: World
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