Q&A about Novel Coronovirus (For the General Public)

April 4, 2020

5  Questions about masks and toilet paper

Q20  When should I wear a mask?  


Masks are said to be highly effective in preventing the spray of  coughs and sneezes as well as the scattering of virus-like pathogens contained in them. People with symptoms such as coughing and sneezing should actively wear masks.


Wearing a mask is considered to be an infection prevention measure in crowded places, especially in poorly ventilated places such as indoors and vehicles.  For outside places, as long as they are not very crowded, wearing masks is not recognized as being effective.

Q21  It is difficult to obtain masks at the moment.  When will it be possible to get masks? 


Domestic manufacturers have a 24-hour production system, and the supply of masks reached more than 100 million masks per week at the end of February. Encouraging domestic manufacturers to increase production and increase imports, we have secured a supply of more than 600 million units per month in March.  In addition, more than 700 million masks are expected to be secured this month (April) by further increasing production and imports.


Specifically, operating on a 24-hour basis, Japanese manufacturers are continuing to increase production three times as usual and are working to further increase production by utilizing the "Subsidy for Operational Cost of Installing Mask Production Equipment”.


For example, Kowa Co., Ltd. has installed a state-of-the-art mask production line using this subsidy project and started production on March 13. We aim to start increasing and supplying 12 million units in the next month or so. On March 13, the subsidy was used to support the introduction of the second phase of a production increase facility of about 50 million pieces.  In addition, as a third step, on March 25, it was decided that support would be given to install production equipment (with a capacity) of about 3 million pieces.


From March 5 to the end of March, the government distributed masks it had procured to residents and care facilities in 41 municipalities in Hokkaido, which has a high proportion of patients to the general population.


Since it is sometimes difficult to secure masks at medical facilities through normal distribution, on February 25, manufacturers and wholesalers cooperated under the direction of the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to start a system which supplies a certain amount of medical masks to designated infectious diseases medical institutions on a priority basis, according to the needs of medical institutions, and distributed 2.27 million surgical masks by March 23. 


For general medical institutions that have a shortage of mask stock, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has requested the prefectural sanitary department to restock the prefectural stockpile and increase the stockpile. Similar requests are being made for long-sleeved gowns, gloves, and other protective equipment other than masks necessary to prevent the spread of infection at medical institutions.


While taking into account the priority level, it is necessary to utilize the medical associations and dentist associations, and ultimately ensure that all medical institutions receive sufficient masks. Utilizing approximately 2.5 million masks held by each ministry and government, and 15 million masks secured by the government, we are prioritizing distribution of masks since March 17 to designated infectious diseases medical institutions, general medical institutions, and hospitals where there are severely ill patients.  In addition, we plan to secure more than 15 million masks from April and distribute them to medical institutions.


In addition, we plan to secure 11 million cloth masks for elementary and junior high school students, teachers, and staff nationwide and distribute them by the end of April.  And over the next month (May), further to the plan to secure a 100 million cloth mask, for all 50 million plus households across the country, we plan to distribute two cloth masks per household.  As this may not by enough, and though it will inconvenience people to wash them, the intention is to reduce anxiety due to the shortage of masks in shops. 


There is also a need for general masks at facilities used by the elderly or public transportation such as buses and taxis. For newly manufactured and imported masks, shipments from such facilities have been gradually increased, so it will take some time for general masks to reach the stores. 

The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will work with the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to further increase production and secure imported products while distributing masks to medical institutions, nursing homes, and other facilities that require masks, and to the public.


As of March 15, it is prohibited to transfer masks purchased from retailers at prices higher than the purchase price. Violations are subject to penalties. At the same time, we ask for your understanding and cooperation to refrain from unnecessary stockpiling.


Reference:  Q&A about Mask Resales (PDF:  748KB)


For further information about mask production, import, sales situation and distribution to local governments, see the website of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry



Reference:  Q&A about Mask Resales (in Japanese) (PDF:  748KB):  https://www.mhlw.go.jp/content/000608656.pdf


For further information about mask production, import, sales situation and distribution to local governments, see the website of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry


Q22  What are the alternatives if you can't get a mask?  (UPDATED)

Instead of using your hands, substituting something that can cover your mouth, such as a handkerchief or towel, can also help prevent droplets from spreading (such as through sneezing).  With regard to cloth masks, they can be reused if washed with detergent.

Q23   Is it true that toilet paper and tissue paper are in short supply?

Information indicating that toilet paper and tissue paper are in short supply is spreading on SNS, etc., but as shown in the table below, there is no shortage. Nearly 100% is domestic production and there are sufficient stocks.  It is expected that the shortage of goods at some stores will be gradually eliminated.

Imported pulpwood accounts for 40% of the raw materials used in domestic production, but these are imported from North and South America and do not depend on Asia such as China.

The Japan Household Paper Manufacturers Association and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry explained on February 28 that production and distribution were normal, and that about three weeks were secured by factory inventory alone.  Therefore, production and supply are carried out as usual, and there is no concern that there will be a shortage in the future. We ask consumers to behave calmly and cooperate in not buying up and reselling supplies so that those need them can get them.

Source:  Press release by the Japan Paper Association


Q24  I heard that there may be a shortage of disposable chopsticks and foodstuffs that are imported from China. Is that true?


There have been reports that there may be a shortage of imported products such as disposable chopsticks and groceries from China.  A large proportion of disposable chopsticks are imported from China but according to domestic distributors, there are sufficient chopsticks in stock with no shortage at present, and they are being distributed as normal.

In addition, alternatives using domestic wood and plastic are also possible. As for foodstuffs, a portion of imported vegetables for businesses from China decreased temporarily, but have now recovered, and together with vegetables produced domestically, there are sufficient levels of vegetables. There is no problem shopping as usual, so we ask consumers to behave calmly.