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Current Status of Production and Supply of Face Masks, Antiseptics and Toilet Paper

- Public-private collaborative efforts advancing to overcome shortage -

Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW)
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI)

Updated at 15:30, April 2, 2020

Preparations advancing for distributing face masks to all people who need them in elderly care, medical institutions and other facilities (April 1, 2020)

No need to worry about daily necessities: we have sufficient product supplies and inventories (as of March 27, 2020)

Masks and antiseptics

Prohibition of reselling face masks

It is prohibited to [i] resell face masks that you have bought at retail stores, online shopping malls or other businesses [ii] to unspecified persons or a large number of people online or through stores or other businesses [iii] at prices higher than the acquisition prices.

Seventeenth Meeting of the Novel Coronavirus Response Headquarters on March 5, 2020

Regarding face masks, we have provided measures for supporting Japanese companies in introducing capital investment and have secured supply of over 600 million masks per month, which far exceeds the average demand per month in previous years. In addition, in response to the current shortage, we intend to include comprehensive mask-related measures that address the current situation from both the supply and demand sides in the second batch of emergency measures to be compiled next week.

On the demand side, there have been several cases where face masks have been traded at very high prices online. It has been pointed out that the purchase of face masks for such resale purpose is worsening the shortages at storefronts. In light of this, we intend to prohibit the resale of face masks, in accordance with the Act on Emergency Measures for Stabilizing Living Conditions of the Public. I have instructed the Government to advance necessary arrangements for a Cabinet Decision on a government ordinance towards smooth implementation of this measure.

On the supply side, we intend to fundamentally increase the supply of face masks to those places that need them most, such as medical facilities, from the perspective of preventing the spread of infection.

To begin with, the Government will make a lump-sum purchase of 20 million masks made of fabric, which can be reused many times. We will provide a sufficient number of these masks so that everyone at care facilities for the elderly, care centers for people with disabilities, daycare centers, and facilities providing after-school programs in accordance with the present school closure, can receive at least one mask, in cooperation with local governments. While this will impose burdens on staff, such as washing these masks, I hope to eliminate the shortage of face masks at these facilities by providing them these masks.

At the same time, as for face masks for medical institutions, the Government intends to secure 15 million face masks by asking Japanese manufacturers to increase production and expanding imports from overseas. We will make every possible effort to ensure that medical practices are not hindered due to a shortage of masks by disseminating these 15 million masks through local governments or relevant authorities to medical institutions in urgent need.

Request to refrain from putting masks and antiseptics up for auction

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) is taking further steps to prevent individuals and enterprises from both engaging in bulk buying of masks and reselling at inflated prices, and to encourage other parties, who have unnecessarily stockpiled quantities of masks, to sell them on relevant markets at reasonable prices. METI has already asked for self-restraint on trading at exorbitant prices, and now a further request that masks not be put up for auction from the specified date.

Specifically, with the cooperation of internet auction platform operators, METI requests that masks and antiseptics not be put up for auction for an unspecified period from Saturday, March 14.

In response to this request, Yahoo! Japan and Mobaoku announced that they will cease to display masks on their auction platforms:

Yahoo! Japan annouced on March 4 that it will cease to display masks on its auction platform for an unspecified time from Saturday, March 14.

Mobaoku announced on March 5 that it will cease to display masks and antiseptics on its auction platform for an unspecified time from Saturday, March 14.

Promotion of trading of masks and antiseptics in small quantities for regular e-commerce transactions (as of March 13)

METI additionally calls for established e-commerce enterprises to reduce the size of mask units sold per transaction at regular prices, so that masks can be made available to more consumers at the regular market prices, but in smaller traded quantities.

Specifically, METI requests that marketing enterprises arrange for only merchandise in a small quantity to be put up for sale for e-commerce from Saturday March 14, 2020 with the right price level.

Distribution of face masks to local governments

Face masks for household use are being distributed to local governments.

Information on face masks

Q1: What is the current status of production of face masks in Japan?

Japanese manufacturers of face masks have recently been ceaselessly and increasingly manufacturing face masks at triple the ordinary volume by operating 24-hours a day.

METI has been receiving requests from manufacturers of finished products and materials for the Subsidy Project for Supporting Businesses in Introducing Facilities for Producing Face Masks, in order to encourage such manufacturers to supply 100 million face masks per week and both introduce new- and enhance existing equipment in manufacturing lines for face masks.

On February 28, METI has nominated the following 3 companies as the first group to be provided with subsidies for installing production equipment by the second week of March:

Kowa Company is planning to install cutting-edge face-mask production lines and started production of masks on March 13. The company aims to start an increase in production of face masks to about 12 million, supply of which will be for the coming month.

On March 13, as for the second group of companies to be subsidized, METI nominated eight companies and decided to support these companies in introducing production equipment for producing an increasing number of face masks at the level of about 56.50 million units. The nominated eight companies will introduce such equipment by the end of March and will start production of face masks or increase production thereof soon.

In response to the request from the government, Kowa Company, Ltd. has been facilitating production of “gauze face masks” and will start supply of such masks in Japan, aiming at production at the level of 15 million in March and 50 million in April.

Q2: What is the current status of imports and overseas production of face masks?

Some companies resumed imports of face masks from China and other countries from the week of February 17 at the level of 10 million face masks. They aim at a further increase in imports to the level of 20 million face masks per week from April 1, 2020.

Moreover, a company in the apparel and sewing industry, which is listed on the first section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, has started the production of gauze face masks at a plant in Myanmar.

Some Japanese companies started to import 4,000 face masks from the week of March 2, and 3,967 masks arrived on March 3 as planned.

They will aim at imports of 100,000 masks during the week of March 9 and of one million per week by the end of March. Following this, these companies will expand the imports up to 4 million masks per week depending on the demand in Japan. To meet demand increases, if they occur, the production capacity of manufacturers serving the Japanese market can be fortified to the level of 100 million masks per month.

Information on bottled antiseptic alcohol for hand sanitation

Q1: What is the current status of production of antiseptics?

Major Japanese manufacturers are respectively striving to increase their production level. In February, they manufactured about 1.8 times (*1) more bottles of antiseptic alcohol than in the average month last year in total and will increase the number in the next month onward. The production in February was 1.7 million liters, which theoretically enables 28 million individual hand washes per day (*2).

*1. Calculated from the figures provided by manufactures as of February 28.

*2. Calculated on the basis that 2 ml is consumed for one wash.

The Ministry is prepared to discuss modified implementation of the pharmaceutical law with manufacturers, with the aim of increasing production for general use.

Q2: How should antiseptics be used at event venues?

Owners of facilities, event organizers and other companies are allowed to buy large bottles of antiseptic alcohol (ethanol) and refill the solution into smaller bottles in order to encourage as many visitors, staff and other stakeholders as possible to sterilize their hands.

In this refilling process, these owners and organizers should make sure that each refilled bottle is completely clean. In addition, they are requested not to distribute the refilled bottles to their visitors and customers.

FAQs

Face masks

Q1: When should I wear a face mask?

Wearing a face mask is highly-effective in preventing the wearer from spreading viruses and other disease agents that are contained in airborne droplets which are released when coughing or sneezing. It is highly recommended that individuals wear face masks if they are exhibiting symptoms such as coughing, sneezing and other symptoms.

If you do not have a face mask, using alternative products is recommended. Do not use your own hand to cover your mouth as it is possible that droplets may be transferred to surfaces that are touched. Rather, use a handkerchief, towel or other alternative, or cough into your elbow so that you can effectively avoid spreading airborne droplets when coughing or sneezing.

Q2: I am thinking of wearing a face mask as a measure to protect myself…

Wearing a face mask in a crowded place with insufficient air ventilation, in particular indoor sites and vehicle interiors, is considered one of the measures for protecting yourself against infection. However, the effectiveness of wearing a face mask outdoors is not fully recognized in protecting yourself against infection, except in cases where you are in a very crowded place.

Q3: It is difficult to buy face masks. When can I buy them?

(apanese manufacturers are now operating their production lines of face masks 24 hours a day. By the end of February, they were supplying over 100 million masks per week. In addition, Companies are now increasing imports of face masks. The government has been encouraging manufacturers to further increase their production in order to relieve the current shortage of stock as early as possible. In March, we will secure a supply of over 600 million masks.

As a first step, the government decided to procure masks and distribute them in Hokkaido which is experiencing an emergency situation. We are establishing a system whereby masks can be distributed to critical areas with large numbers of infected persons for the population and with potential rapid spread of infection.

It is often difficult for medical facilities to procure sufficient quantities through usual distribution systems. In addition to requesting production increases, the government established a system on February 25 under the direction of MHLW with cooperation between manufacturers and wholesalers, whereby certain quantities of surgical masks can be made available based on the degree of priority for each medical facility.

As a first step in this system, the government requested that relevant associations of manufacturers and wholesalers preferentially supply 410,000 surgical masks to 14 municipalities, and 188,000 surgical masks to 68 designated medical facilities for infectious diseases.

As for other general medical clinics, MHLW is now asking each prefectural government to release their stocks or increase them. The government will officially request that all the prefectural governments investigate how much stocks are held by general medical clinics, and release their stocks where necessary.

It is necessary for sufficient quantities of surgical masks to be supplied ultimately to all medical facilities. For this purpose the government will seek cooperation of Japan Medical Association and the Japan Dental Association taking various degrees of preferential supply into consideration. The system for preferential supply will cover all the medical facilities nationwide.

Manufacturers are now striving to satisfy the demand for face masks in medical organizations, facilities mainly used by the elderly, public transportation organizations for buses and taxis, and other businesses, and they are requested to ship face masks to these organizations on a priority basis. Taking these reasons into account, please understand that these manufacturers need some time before shipping such masks to retail stores.

In addition, the government strongly requests consumers to not buy face masks for the purpose of reselling them and to not stock up on such masks unless there is an urgent need. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

Measures against infectious diseases

Q1: Please tell me how to avoid infectious diseases.

First of all, wash your hands thoroughly using soap. If you cannot do so, sterilize your hands with antiseptic alcohol.

Secondly, avoid going to very crowded places. Please take all precautions if it is necessary to be indoors in a place where people cannot maintain personal space for long periods.

Wash your hands

If you touch a door knob, a hanging strap on a train, or other products used by the public, the virus may attach to your hands. Wash your hands frequently, e.g., when you come back home, before and after cooking and before eating a meal.

Manage your health

Try to get sufficient sleep and regularly eat well-balanced meals in order to enhance your immune system.

Maintain sufficient humidity levels where possible

If you are in a room with dry air, the mucosal performance of your throat will decline. Use humidifiers when necessary to ensure a minimum of 50-60% humidity levels when possible.

Q2: What measures are effective if alcohol for sterilization is not available?

Wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly, which will be effective in neutralizing the virus. For correct hand washing methods, refer to the following websites.

For desks and door knobs, apply sodium hypochlorite to the surface (chlorinated bleach for home-use) diluted in water to a concentration of approximately 5%.

Q3: I have a fever and a cough. What should I do?

If you are suffering from a fever and other symptoms often seen upon catching a cold, please take the day off work or school and avoid going outside or to any events. Taking time off is an important action in order not only to help you recover but also to prevent yourself from spreading infection. To encourage this action, companies and private individuals need to understand the importance of taking time off in such a situation. MHLW and related ministries and agencies consider it significant to develop an environment where workers are smoothly permitted to take time off. In light of this, they have been asking labor-management associations and companies to cooperate in developing such an environment.

Currently, the overwhelming number fever and other symptoms often seen upon catching a cold are caused by something other than the novel coronavirus disease. If you are suspected to have caught a cold, influenza or another disease, consult with your regular doctor or clinic as always.

Only contact the consultation center opened at your nearby Public Health Center if you suspect that you have been infected by the novel coronavirus. In particular, if you satisfy the following conditions that the MHLW released as the criteria for having a consultation with your doctor or visiting a hospital, please consult with the consultation center.

  •  In the case where you are suffering from symptoms often seen upon catching a cold or you have a fever of over 37.5 degree Celsius for four or more days, including cases where you need to continue to take antipyretics; and
  • In the case where you feel strong weariness or fatigue and it is difficult to breathe freely or you have trouble breathing.

Note: If you are an elderly person, a patient suffering from a pre-existing disease, e.g., diabetes, heart failure and respiratory disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a patient requiring artificial dialysis, or a patient taking immune-suppressive agents or anticancer agents, and if you are suffering from symptoms often seen upon catching a cold or if you have a fever of over 37.5 degree Celsius for two or so days, please consult with the consultation center.

Q4: Tell me about “cough etiquette.”

If you sneeze or cough, you may spread airborne droplets containing a virus. Please endeavor to observe “cough etiquette” as below.

  • Wear a face mask
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a facial tissue, etc.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with your sleeve or the inner side of your arm if you have a sudden need to sneeze or cough (sneeze or cough into your elbow when necessary).
  • Step away from nearby persons as far as possible when sneezing or coughing.

Toilet paper

Q1: I heard about the shortage of toilet paper and facial tissues in stores. Is this information true?

Some SNS and other media users have been spreading incorrect information on a shortage of toilet paper and facial tissues in stores. As shown in the table below, these products are not in shortage. Nearly all toilet paper and facial tissues are manufactured in Japan and their inventories are ample. The shortage, which is seen in some stores, is expected to end soon.

Forty percent of the pulpwood which is the raw material of these products manufactured in Japan is imports from North and South America, and Japanese manufacturers do not depend on China or other Asian countries at all.

The Japan Household Paper Industry Association explained on February 28 and March 2 that the production lines and distribution of these products are in normal operation and also that manufacturers maintain product inventories equivalent to a 3 week supply for every person in Japan.

Accordingly, manufacturers have been operating their production lines and supplying toilet paper and facial tissues as usual and there is not now nor will there be concern about a shortage of these products. METI asks consumers to act calmly and rationally and not to buy these products for the purpose of reselling them or stocking up on them beyond normal use amounts. These actions may hinder distribution of these products to those who need them. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

toilet paper supply
Source: Data compiled by METI based on the results of interviews with the Japan Household Paper Industry Association and related companies

Announcement of sufficient production of toilet paper

Q2: How much toilet paper should I buy and stock up on as an average household?

According to data on the average amount of toilet paper used in a household, which was compiled based on the past data and released by the Japan Household Paper Industry Association, one person uses one roll in about one week and a household of four family members uses about 16 rolls every month.

Announcement of sufficient production of toilet paper

Q3: Please tell me the current status of the distribution of toilet paper.

In cooperation with manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers, the government has been enhancing distribution of toilet paper to stores. Distributors are now delivering 40,000 rolls every day, twice the volume of ordinary times of 20,000. This volume is equivalent to the level of supplying a pack of a dozen rolls to 3.30 million households (i.e., a volume that a household of four members can use for three weeks).

As for inventories of toilet paper, 350 million rolls are still on the shelves, a level equivalent to about 3 weeks for all people across Japan. In addition, production lines are operating ceaselessly. METI asks consumers who have already bought some recently or who have still some stockpiled at home to take reasonable actions and to not buy toilet paper for a short while.

Toilet Paper Supply Chain

Other

Q1: I heard that products mainly imported from China, in particular, disposable chopsticks and food for commercial use, may run short. Is this true?

Some media outlets have broadcast speculations that products mainly imported from China, such as disposable chopsticks and food for commercial use, may run short.

A high ratio of disposable chopsticks in Japan are imported from China. However, the Japanese government has confirmed with Japanese distributors that they have sufficient inventories of such chopsticks in Japan and also that they have been advancing regular operations of distribution with no shortage situation as of today. In addition, manufacturers are able to produce disposable chopsticks from domestic wood or plastic as alternative materials.

Regarding food for commercial use, some businesses temporarily faced a decrease in imports of certain types of vegetables for commercial use from China. However, the decline has now recovered and distributors have secured sufficient quantities of not only Chinese vegetables but also Japanese ones.

These products are available for consumers to purchase in stores as usual. The government asks consumers to act calmly and rationally.

Links to references:

Last updated:2020-04-02