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Don't fit: PM Abe's cloth face masks hit by backlash from nursing home workers

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is shown wearing a cloth face mask in this photo taken on March 31, 2020. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's plan to distribute cloth face masks to Japanese households as part of countermeasures against the novel coronavirus has been preceded by the delivery of such masks to nursing homes and welfare facilities. While the plan devised by the prime minister himself has been ridiculed online as "Abenomask," meaning "Abe's mask," those who have actually received the masks are already voicing their dissatisfaction with the items.

The prime minister issued a statement that the government will purchase a large amount of reusable cloth masks that can be washed and distribute two masks to each of the 50 million households throughout Japan. Prior to the distribution to regular homes set to begin on April 17, the government delivered a total of about 13 million masks to staff members and patients of nursing homes and welfare facilities in March, giving out one mask per person as the elderly population is prone to experience severe COVID-19 symptoms. There are various types of cloth masks being distributed by the government, which differ based on the supplier. The cloth face mask worn by Abe during Diet sessions is among these.

A male employee in his 30s who works at an after-school facility in Tokyo commented, "The strings of the mask rubs against my ears and hurt. The size is also too small for the average man, so male staff members are using their own masks." A man in his 40s who works in a care home for the disabled in Chiba Prefecture expressed his concern, saying, "The mask shrinks after being washed and it's also difficult to speak with it on because it keeps sliding due to its small size. It's also hard for those with disabilities to keep reusing them cleanly and it is impractical to manage the usage of the masks at the facility."

Another nursing care worker dismissed the cloth masks, saying, "What we need are surgical masks." Although the distribution of the cloth masks to regular households will start soon, it is unclear whether they will be widely used.

(Japanese original by Ryosuke Abe and Natsuko Ishida, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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