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Mask rationing in Japan possible with use of 'My Number' cards: state minister

State Minister of Cabinet Office Masaaki Taira (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The thorough and widespread use of Japan's "My Number" social security and tax number cards with integrated circuit (IC) chips would make it technologically possible to ration masks and other items to people in Japan during disasters or emergency situations, according to a Cabinet Office state minister.

"Most people in Taiwan have identification cards with IC chips," Cabinet Office State Minister and a ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) member Masaaki Taira told a House of Councillors Budget Committee session on March 5.

In the same meeting, LDP member Kimi Onoda explained that while mask shortages continue across Japan amid the spread of the new coronavirus, Taiwan has adopted a system to prevent customers from buying out products by using their purchase history and by requiring people to buy masks under their names. She asked the Japanese government to do the same.

Taira pointed out that only around 14% of people in Japan have their My Number cards and added, "Widespread use of such cards would make it possible to control how many (masks) each person gets by using IC chips." He also said the same method could be used in the future during times of disasters or outbreaks of infectious diseases.

"In Taiwan, authorities buy up masks from manufacturers and distribute them to designated drugstores. Japan does not have such a rationing system," Taira explained, asking for an understanding of the difference in the system in Japan and Taiwan.

During the same session, education minister Koichi Hagiuda said 99% of elementary, junior high and high schools remained closed as of the morning of March 4 after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requested all schools shut down as part of measures to halt the spread of the new coronavirus.

"It was a sudden request and we put an enormous burden on everyone from various quarters," he explained.

According to Hagiuda, the sudden school closures are affecting businesses supplying foodstuffs for school lunches. He commented, "The government as a whole would like to thoroughly consider measures to reduce the burden on business operators, including those supplying school lunch ingredients."

(Japanese original by Daisuke Nohara, Political News Department)

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