Japan joins Singapore and Taiwan in curbing profiteering from face masks

To say that people have been panicking because of Covid-19 is an understatement. Panic-buying began early on, with some of the most-hoarded items being face masks.

Despite health experts explaining that masks won’t actually do much to protect people who aren’t infected by the virus, people all around the world have been hoarding masks ever since the first confirmed cases with some people even reselling them for much higher prices.

Japan has decided to do something about it, after Hiroyuki Morota, a 53-year-old Japanese assemblyman, made ¥8.9 million by selling face masks via online auctions (S$116,685) on February 5.

Starting today (March 15, 2020), reselling face masks at higher prices in Japan is now a crime punishable by a fine of ¥1 million (S$13,111) or one year in prison or both. This new rule has been set in place with hopes of preventing people from taking advantage of the current mask shortage. In Singapore, profiteers can be fined up to S$10,000 for the first offence, and up to S$20,000 for the second and subsequent offences.

Naturally, people will still be able to buy masks and share them with their friends and family members. They can also still hoard and resell the masks, but this must be at the price that the masks were bought for, or lower.

Hopefully, this rule will ensure that everybody can get masks when they need them. If the demand for other products like toilet paper and hand sanitisers go up, these products could be added to the rule later on.

On the other hand, they also plan on lifting the rule if the demand for face masks goes back to normal.

Face mask manufacturers in Japan are said to have had trouble meeting this unexpected surge in demand, and grocery stores and drugs stores have been running out of them within the past few weeks. The ministry even asked online companies to suspend any online face mask auctions, but this didn’t seem to have discouraged the resellers.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised to boost the supply of face masks in Japan to 600 million a month. Ensuring that nursing facilities have enough is on top of their list of priorities for this.

Japan’s measures to curb profiteers is similar to Singapore Government’s Price Controller cracking down on businesses and individuals that sell face masks at inflated prices. In Taiwan, a Central Epidemic Command Center set up to manage the novel coronavirus has placed limits on prices of personal protective equipment, including face masks.

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