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West Japan firm restarts mask factory amid virus-triggered shortages

Taishi Co. President Kenji Taniguchi, right, presents a mask made at the firm's plant in Tottori, on March 10, 2020. (Mainichi/Hirofumi Nohara)

TOTTORI -- A farming machine trader in this western Japan city has resumed operation of a mask manufacturing plant that had been used for storage, amid mask shortages due to the new coronavirus outbreak.

Tottori-based Taishi Co. has maintained the functions of the factory since it acquired the plant in November 2017 as the company's storage facility. According to Taishi President Kenji Taniguchi, the then owner of the plant and engineers asked him to keep equipment at the factory because "a large-scale outbreak of an infectious disease occurs about once every 10 years." He has accordingly maintained the plant to produce masks if there ever was demand.

The company is now manufacturing some thousands of masks per day on a test basis with help from those who used to work at the plant. It plans to secure daily manufacturing capabilities of roughly 20,000 to 30,000 masks by the first half of the third week of March and expand the number to 75,000 to 100,000 per day by the end of the month. Taishi says it will prioritize distribution within Tottori Prefecture.

"I thought 'No way' (when they asked me to maintain the plant functions), but we have been preparing since the latter half of January after we saw infections were spreading in China. We're working to make the masks available for residents in the prefecture as soon as possible," Taniguchi commented.

While these masks are on the pricey side -- about 330 yen a piece -- they are made with four layers and the company claims they are of a higher quality than products commonly sold at drugstores.

On March 10, Tottori Gov. Shinji Hirai visited the plant. He praised the company's move, saying that the prefectural government wanted to support the firm using national and prefectural subsidy systems.

(Japanese original by Hirofumi Nohara, Tottori Bureau)

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