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Mask shortage in Japan to linger despite Abe's production push

Goal of 600m in March elusive as producers hesitate to spend on equipment

Japan Vilene began round-the-clock operations last month to boost mask production by more than 50%. (Photo by Marie Shimokawa)

TOKYO -- Japanese stores have been stripped bare of medical masks as the new coronavirus spreads in the country, while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push for a nationwide supply of 600 million this month faces obstacles both foreign and domestic.

Not only does Japan depend heavily on China -- the epicenter of the outbreak -- for its procurement of masks, but smaller producers of medical supplies remain reluctant to buy additional equipment and facilities needed to boost output despite new subsidies offered by the Japanese government.

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