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Japanese expat's handmade mask sales boom as Aussies adopt new habits

This July 26, 2020 photo shows Sayaka Nakamoto making cloth masks in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo courtesy of Sayaka Nakamoto/Kyodo)
This July 26, 2020 photo shows Sayaka Nakamoto making handmade cloth masks in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo courtesy of Sayaka Nakamoto/Kyodo)

SYDNEY (Kyodo) -- When Sayaka Nakamoto first moved to Australia in 2012, she noticed locals were not in the habit of wearing face masks when sick with a cold or flu.

    "Last year, I never saw anyone wearing masks. People seem to think it's something for seriously ill people to wear," the Japanese-born mother of one said.

    Nakamoto, who lives in Melbourne with her husband and daughter, said it was difficult to find masks locally when she was sick, and so decided to make her own, which she's been selling online since 2017.

    Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Nakamoto said business was slow, with only a handful of masks sold each month. But since the new virus took hold in Australia, she's been inundated with hundreds of orders a day.

    "I never expected this to happen, and was surprised by how peoples' opinion (of masks) changed," she said in a phone interview.

    While Australia was successful in controlling the spread of the virus earlier in the year, Melbourne has been experiencing a resurgence of cases since June.

    In July, the city of roughly 5 million again went into lockdown, and public health orders made wearing masks outdoors compulsory.

    Nakamoto's washable masks, made from cotton gauze, are in such demand she works well into the night to meet delivery schedules. During the day, she assists her daughter with online classes as schools are closed.

    "I feel a lot of moral support knowing that I'm helping others," Nakamoto said in reference to her lack of sleep from making masks.

    "But more than the masks selling well, I would be happiest if the virus were brought under control."

    Australia has recorded 15,582 cases of infection and 176 deaths, according to the latest tally by Johns Hopkins University. Recent outbreaks in Melbourne and Sydney have seen both cities declared hotspots, with residents unable to cross many state borders.

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