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1,800 prison-made masks distributed to children in western Japan

Omine Elementary School student representative Mitsuki Matsuhashi holds up a cloth mask made by inmates at a local prison, in Mine, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on April 8, 2020. (Mainichi/Yusuke Hiratsuka)

MINE, Yamaguchi -- This western Japan city distributed about 1,800 cloth masks made by inmates at a local prison to all of the 18 municipal elementary and junior high schools on April 8 as single-use masks run short amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The cloth masks were made by prisoners at the Mine Rehabilitation Program Center, a penal institution operated jointly by the public and private sectors. This marks the first time a prison in Japan has produced masks as a measure against infectious diseases, according to the city government.

A clothing maker in Ehime Prefecture, western Japan, that offers work for prisoners cooperated in the project. The inmates used electric sewing machines to assemble pieces cut by the company, and attached the ear strings. The masks can be used repeatedly if they are washed with detergent.

The schools held their opening ceremonies on April 8. At Omine Elementary School, the ceremony was held in the playground, where principal Kunihiro Nagayasu, 53, introduced the masks made by the inmates. "I think they made the masks in the hope you would try hard at school," he said. "Please use them carefully and with a sense of gratitude."

Mitsuki Matsuhashi, 11, who received the masks on behalf of the students, said, "We are glad (to get these) and they will encourage us in our resistance against the novel coronavirus."

According to the city government, plans call for a total of about 6,100 cloth masks to be made at the prison in April. The city is considering distributing the masks to elderly people as well. A municipal official in charge said, "We hope to reduce residents' worries amid the mask shortage, even if only a little."

(Japanese original by Yusuke Hiratsuka, Yamaguchi Bureau)

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