Japanese Prime Minister faces backlash for ‘Abenomask’ policy

On April 1st, 2020, Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo said that the government would give each household two reusable cloth face masks to combat the spread of the coronavirus. He said that sending cloth masks to the areas worst hit by the outbreak would “be helpful in responding to the rapidly increasing demand”. 

Japanese PM faces backlash - Abenomask policy

However, amid the spike in Japan’s confirmed cases and medical shortages across the nation, many feel it just isn’t enough. As of April 1, there were over 2,300 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Japan and 57 deaths due to COVID-19. At the meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, Abe said that the government plans to send 15 million surgical masks to medical institutions all over Japan.

He also shared that they would be providing two washable face masks to around 50 million households in Japan. CNN reports that after his announcement, the hashtags “screw your two masks” and “Abe’s mask” trended on Twitter. People aired their frustrations online, revealing that they expected the state to offer compensation for businesses or cash handouts for the poor or those with larger families.

The Japanese government is expected to announce an economic package that includes cash handouts soon. As for the masks, Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide said that they would be distributing the cloth masks, worth ¥200 each, via Japan Post. According to the Japan Times, the hashtag “Abenomask” also trended on Twitter, in contrast to Abe’s economic policies known as “Abenomics”.

Abe has become an online meme, with many cartoons and photos online showing Abe wearing two masks: one on his mouth and the other on his eyes. Other memes show famous anime characters from large fictional families struggling to share the two masks given by Abe. Members of the public have voiced their concerns that the distribution of masks at the end of April will not be enough to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Abe has also refused to declare a state of emergency, despite many calling on him to do so. Tokyo Government Koike Yuriko is urging Abe to declare a national emergency after Tokyo recorded 78 new confirmed cases. Koike has asked residents to telework and avoid public gatherings until April 12, 2020, and has extended the closure of public facilities and schools until May 6th, 2020.

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