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Japan PM Abe lashes out at reporter over cloth mask controversy comment

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen during a press conference at his office in Tokyo on April 17, 2020. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

TOKYO -- Prime Minister Shinzo Abe lashed out at an Asahi Shimbun daily reporter who pointed out the public derision being heaped on a government program to send cloth masks to every household amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"I'm aware that your company's online shopping site was also selling cloth masks for 3,300 yen per pair," Abe told the journalist at an April 17 press conference.

The government began distributing pairs of cloth masks to each household across Japan on April 17 to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. However, the masks have earned dismal reputations, with some complaining they are "too small" and others calling them "Abenomasks," a pun on the Abe administration's key economic policy mix, "Abenomics."

During the news conference, Abe explained that the government decided to distribute the masks "based on the awareness that there are many people who are having trouble getting face masks. If washed, they can be used many times, which can lead to curbing the demand for other masks."

He added, "I've heard that Singapore has also distributed cloth masks to all citizens, and that Paris has decided to take similar steps."

In response to the Asahi reporter's comment that the Abe administration "has come under attack over the distribution of cloth masks to all residential addresses," Abe cited the newspaper company's online sales of cloth masks and quipped, "To put it simply, we are giving two-mask handouts as there is good demand for such items."

The Asahi Shimbun's e-commerce site has halted new orders for cloth masks and other items, citing fears of disrupting the logistics sector.

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama, Political News Department)

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