Defective masks for pregnant women are the latest problem for the Japanese government
TOKYO (Reuters) – Some 300,000 coronavirus masks sent to pregnant women in Japan under a government document were found to be flawed, media reported on Tuesday, the latest in a series of complaints about how the government has dealt with the epidemic.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government efforts to distribute protective cloth masks in the fight against the coronavirus have been marred by complaints of mold, bugs and stains.
Just days after the government began providing each household with two washable masks at a total cost of $ 430 million, complaints emerged of soiled or defective products, many of which came from pregnant women.
As of Tuesday, the number of defective masks distributed to pregnant women rose to 300,000 out of 500,000, state broadcaster NHK reported.
Masks are being sent in order of priority, with pregnant women and care homes for the disabled at the top of the list, though private households in Tokyo are starting to receive theirs as well.
The Health Ministry was not immediately available for comment, but Minister Katsunobu Kato told a press conference that the safety of all masks would be checked.
“It is a top priority to ensure the quality of the masks so that pregnant women can use them,” he said.
The government asked five companies to make the masks and initially said only three – Kowa Co Ltd, Matsuoka Corp and the Itochu Corp trading house – provide them to pregnant women.
Itochu said last week he was recalling some of his undistributed face masks following reports of defects, as did Kowa, who said he would step up inspections at his factories.
A spokesperson for Matsuoka Corp said he had not received any reports from the government regarding issues with his masks, although he would respond quickly and appropriately if any issues arose.
On Monday, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government had verified that another company, Yusebio, had also supplied masks that had been sent to pregnant women.
According to Japanese media, the company, located in northern Fukushima Prefecture, normally imports wood chips for use in biomass energy and employs five employees.
In February, the company imported a large number of the masks, originally intending to sell them locally, but was later contacted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to purchase them, said the president of the company, quoted by the daily Asahi Shimbun.
“There is no problem with the quality of our masks,” said the president of the company, quoted by NHK. The company could not be reached immediately for comment.
Asked about the purchase of the masks and how the companies were chosen, Suga told a press conference that everything was handled appropriately.
âThere was an urgent need for masks, so the government asked around them roughly,â he said, without giving further details.
Masks remain a sought-after item in Japan.
Sharp Corp said in a statement Tuesday that 4.7 million people have requested 40,000 boxes of face masks.
Overwhelming demand last week caused the Japanese electronics company’s website to crash shortly after the company started taking orders online. He then changed to selling the masks through a lottery to avoid more accidents and said he was increasing production.
Reporting by Elaine Lies; Additional reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel