TOKYO: Japanese lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition camps on Thursday criticized the government’s plan to distribute two cloth masks to every household in the country, with one of them saying he thought it was an April Fools’ joke.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the measure Wednesday as part of efforts to curb infection with the new coronavirus.
The message to citizens on economic measures is too slow,” Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary-general of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters. “Masks alone can’t allay citizens” concerns.”
Yuichiro Tamaki, head of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, blasted the measure, saying, “I thought it was an April Fools’ joke,” adding, “The government should distribute cash instead of masks.”
DPFP lawmaker Teruhiko Mashiko posted a sarcastic tweet touching on cronyism allegations against the prime minister. “Are (the masks) made by a company run by a ‘friend’?” the tweet read. “I’ll preserve it forever as a souvenir once it arrives.”
“Medical and care facilities face mask shortages,” Japanese Communist Party chief Kazuo Shii said at a press conference. “Is the government really committed to (coronavirus measures) if it proposes giving masks to households while failing to show how those facilities will be aided?”
Opposition lawmakers were not the only ones to lambaste the policy.
“The policy is an embodiment of populism,” said a senior lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s faction led by former regional revitalization minister Shigeru Ishiba. “It would be a lot more beneficial to use the money for developing diagnostic kits and improving the medical system.”
“This could have been done two to three weeks ago,” said a middle-ranking lawmaker from the faction headed by LDP Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida. “The government’s response is too late.”
In response to criticisms, Abe said at a plenary meeting of the House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Diet, Japan’s parliament, on Thursday that the aim of the measure is to lower skyrocketing demand for masks and try to alleviate citizens’ insecurities as much as possible.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also sought to defend the measure, saying at a press conference the same day, “I’ve heard many people say that masks are not available at stores.”