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Japan vows to buy excess medical gear if companies raise output

Abe enlists industry giants to alleviate mask and ventilator shortage

Surplus protective gear, such as masks and gowns, and medical equipment would be purchased by the government to go into the nation's reserves.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday urged manufacturers of protective gear and medical equipment to boost output as part of the country's coronavirus response, promising to buy any excess materials.

Abe cited N95 masks, disinfectants, medical gowns and ventilators as "a critical necessity" for medical staff during a video meeting with executives from businesses such as health products maker Kao, cosmetics company Shiseido, Sony and Toyota Motor. Some of these companies are realigning production to begin making medical products.

"We need to establish a supply chain for important materials within Japan," he said. "The government will buy what doesn't get sold for our reserves."

Abe hopes to pass a draft supplementary budget related to the coronavirus by the end of April. The proposed budget includes funding for the initiative, the prime minister said Wednesday, and he will "not hesitate to tap into emergency reserves if necessary."

Despite the shortage in protective medical gear, companies are reluctant to make capital investments, worried about what to do with the excess capacity once the outbreak ends. Some in Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party have urged the government to buy the bulk of such supplies to minimize risks for the businesses.

Sony has said it will contribute to ventilator production, aiming to start output in as little as three months and supply more than 1,000 units. Toyota said it will produce protective masks, and the automaker also committed to using its production methods to help ventilator makers.

Textile maker Teijin will start producing medical gowns by the end of the month, with plans to churn out 9 million units by the end of June. Koken is investing in a domestic plan to double its output of N95 masks, while Kao and Shiseido said they built production lines for disinfectant.

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