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Coronavirus-related toilet paper shortage is fake news: Japan industry group

Empty shelves for paper products including toilet paper and tissue are seen at the Sakura Machi branch of the Shimokawa pharmacy drugstore chain, in Kumamoto's Chuo Ward on Feb. 27, 2020. (Mainichi/Kohei Shimizu)

KUMAMOTO -- A Japanese paper association is trying to quash what it says are false rumors spreading across social media that the new coronavirus has caused a toilet paper shortage, which have apparently spurred a consumer rush to stock up on rolls.

A drugstore in Chuo Ward in the southwestern Japan city of Kumamoto saw a sudden rise in customers coming to buy toilet paper and tissue on the evening of Feb. 27, and the items sold out in about an hour.

"The supply of masks has stopped but that's not the case with toilet paper," said Tomonori Nishimura, 45, assistant store manager at the Sakura Machi branch of the Shimokawa pharmacy drugstore chain.

Many people have been tweeting things such as, "Following the shortage of sanitizers and masks, toilet paper is apparently expected to run out," and posting images of empty store shelves. Meanwhile, others have made comments such as, "The toilet paper shortage is false rumor. Please don't get deceived."

Tokyo-based "Nihon Kateishi Kogyokai" ("Japan household paper products industry association"), with a membership of 39 Japanese paper manufacturers, and other sources say misleading rumors that "masks and toilet paper are made from the same raw materials, therefore an increase in the production of masks will cause shortage of paper products," have been circulating on social media.

However, toilet paper commonly used in Japan is made of mostly domestic pulp and other raw materials plus some imported from North America, and which are completely different from those used in the production of face masks.

Furthermore, many toilet paper and tissue manufacturers have excessive stock after last-minute demand before a tax hike in October 2019 declined. An association representative said, "None of the member companies have run out of such (paper) products. Even if they temporarily disappear from store shelves, they can be replenished quickly."

(Japanese original by Kohei Shimizu, Kumamoto Bureau)

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