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Japan to ban resale of masks at high prices amid coronavirus-triggered shortage

A worker at Kitami Post Office in the city of Kitami in Hokkaido checks masks distributed by the central government, on March 5, 2020. (Mainichi/Taichi Kaizuka)

TOKYO -- The Japanese government will ban the resale of masks at exorbitant prices amid an online surge in such actions due to the new coronavirus outbreak in a bid to ensure stable supplies.

The decision announced on March 5 is based on the Act on Emergency Measures for Stabilizing Living Conditions of the Public, enacted in 1973 amid an oil crisis to stabilize product prices after Japan faced a scarcity of everyday necessities such as toilet paper and gas that led to price hikes.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will approve a revised ordinance to enforce the emergency measures law on March 10, and the government will ban unfair reselling of masks starting mid-March. The government is looking to prevent such tactics by exercising legal binding force.

Businesses and individuals who resell masks they bought at drugstores and other places will be subject to the ban. Violations of the law could result in imprisonments of up to five years or a maximum 3 million yen fine. At the same time, retailers will still be allowed to sell masks on their official online stores. The ban will be lifted after a stable supply of masks is secured when the viral outbreak calms down.

Japan imports roughly 80% of its masks from China and other countries. Following the coronavirus epidemic in its northwestern neighbor, the volume of mask imports has sharply plunged. Even though domestic manufacturers have been producing masks around the clock, shortages have continued. Meanwhile, some businesses and individuals have bought up masks at stores and are reselling them at high prices on online auction sites and other places. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has requested operators of such websites to take measures to prevent unreasonable pricing.

(Japanese original by Kei Tsuchiya and Hajime Nakatsugawa, Business News Department)

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