Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto dismissed a media report that the government would spend 1 billion yen ($8.7 million) to redistribute unused and stockpiled ‘Abenomasks’, but would not say what the cost would be. cost.

“It is difficult to present (the cost) at the moment,” Goto said during a meeting of the Lower House Budget Committee on February 3. “We don’t think it will cost 1 billion yen at this point.”

Katsuhito Nakajima, a lawmaker from the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, asked Goto about a newspaper report that said the shipping cost of the anti-virus cloth masks reached 1 billion yen while the cost to just get rid of the masks would be around 60 million yen.

According to the Ministry of Health, around 80 million Abenomasks and other cloth masks remain in storage. It also said it received around 370,000 requests for a total of at least 280 million free masks.

The Ministry of Health plans to tally the exact number of masks requested and consider how to deliver them. It will begin the distribution process in early March.

“Shipping will be calculated later,” Goto said. “It is difficult to present (the cost) at this time.”

Such demand for these masks represents a significant turnaround from when the masks were first distributed in April 2020.

Then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came up with the idea of ​​distributing a pair of reusable cloth face masks to every household to ease concerns about mask shortages at the start of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The masks were derided as too small or for arriving long after the masks became widely available in stores again.

The cost of purchasing and delivering the masks in this project amounted to nearly 50 billion yen.
Abe on Jan. 27 bragged about the latest requests for masks.

“I wish the redistribution had happened much sooner,” he told a meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.