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Japan government persists with 'Abenomask' giveaway, reignites social media outcry

FILE PHOTO: Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wearing a protective mask enters a venue for his news conference, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan May 25, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool/File Photo

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s government is pushing ahead with the distribution of its much derided masks even though commercially made masks are now readily available, prompting a renewed outcry on social media.

Dubbed the “Abenomask”, which means Abe’s mask and is a pun on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” programme, the washable gauze mask has been criticised as ill fitting with quality issues and as a waste of public money.

First introduced amid a mask shortage as the coronavirus spread in Japan, some 130 million have been distributed to households and the government is still working on sending out 80 million of a planned 157 million to facilities such as nursing homes and day care centres.

“Using taxes like this is no laughing matter,” comedian Zenjiro said in a Twitter post. His tweet was one of more than a hundred thousand after an Asahi newspaper report about the continued distribution of the masks.

Asked about the programme, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters: “The masks are relatively low cost and help curb demand.”

Japan is seeing rising coronavirus infection numbers as it increases testing and opens up its economy. As of Monday, Tokyo had logged more than 200 new cases in six of the last seven days. The capital confirmed around 270 further cases on Tuesday, the Nikkei business daily reported.

A Kyodo news agency poll this month found that around two thirds of respondents were in favour of a reintroduction of a state of emergency.

Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Edwina Gibbs