Sharp plans to start making face masks at one of its factories in Japan in response to surging demand sparked by the coronavirus outbreak, The Associated Press reports. The plant, in Kameyama, Mie prefecture, is usually used for mass-producing large LCD panels and assembling TVs.
Sharp will make 150,000 masks a day by the end of this month, rising to as much as 500,000 a day. The facility is said to be well-suited for mask production because of the essential high standards of cleanliness. Sharp, which is owned by Foxconn, reportedly hasn’t yet settled on pricing or distribution plans for the masks.
Face masks are a common sight in Japan, particularly in winter when many people wear them to help prevent the spread of illnesses. But since the COVID-19 outbreak began, it’s been difficult to find them and other household items like toilet paper, with most retailers restricting buyers to a single pack at a time. In some countries outside Japan, where masks are less often seen in stores, sellers have been jacking up prices on online marketplaces.
US surgeon general Jerome Adams urged the public not to add to the demand in a tweet over the weekend. “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!” Adams wrote. “They are NOT effective in preventing general public from catching #Coronavirus, but if healthcare providers can’t get them to care for sick patients, it puts them and our communities at risk!”
World Health Organization guidelines state that healthy people should only wear masks if taking care of someone who is suspected to have been infected with the coronavirus, but for people with symptoms they may help slow the spread of the disease in combination with thorough and frequent hand-washing.