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Japan homeless support groups collect, redistribute 'Abenomasks' to those in need

Nonprofit organization Tenohashi representative Kenji Seino, left, and Medecins du Monde Japan's Akiko Takeishi are seen inspecting masks distributed by the Japanese government to households, in Tokyo's Toshima Ward on May 13, 2020. (Mainichi/Daiki Takikawa)

TOKYO -- Nonprofit organizations are collecting and redistributing pairs of cloth face masks -- being sent to every household in Japan as a government measure to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus -- to those in financial difficulties in the capital.

The nonprofit group Tenohashi that supports those in need has been handing out masks to homeless people and others since March when its staff patrol the city at night or operate soup kitchens, but has been struggling to secure masks amid shortages. After the Toshima Ward, Tokyo-based organization announced on its website that it was collecting the government-distributed cloth masks in late April, about 300 of the masks had been received by mid-May, and the group says that mask supply has become more stable.

A man, left, receives a pair of government-distributed cloth masks that were collected by the nonprofit organization Tenohashi, in Tokyo's Toshima Ward on May 13, 2020. (Mainichi/Daiki Takikawa)

As some of the masks sent out by the government -- dubbed "Abenomasks," a pun on the Abe administration's "Abenomics" economic policy mix -- had been recalled after being found with quality flaws such as smudges on them, the nonprofit organization has been conducting inspections themselves before handing them out to people in need.

Another aid group based in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward has also collected and redistributed some 1,000 state-funded masks.

A man in his 70s who received the masks at a park in the capital's Ikebukuro area told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I thought I wouldn't be able to receive them because I don't have a fixed home address. It's nice to have them since I hear that old people will have a hard time if they get infected."

(Japanese original by Daiki Takikawa, Photo Group)

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