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Japan mask prices surge on online flea markets amid coronavirus scare
An employee inspects a disposable protective mask at the Clever Co. factory in Toyohashi, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, on Friday, Jan. 31, 2020. The deadly coronavirus outbreak is posing a challenge to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's target of increasing the number of foreign visitors to 40 million this year, when Tokyo hosts the Olympic games. Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

Japan mask prices surge on online flea markets amid coronavirus scare

OSAKA – As the shortage of face masks continues in Japan amid the spread of a new coronavirus originating in China, their prices are shooting up on online flea markets.

Some people are apparently cornering masks at drugstores and other shops, and selling them at excessively high prices on online markets for which there are currently no regulations on resale.

Due to the new coronavirus outbreak, regularly priced masks have now been unavailable at Amazon.com Inc.’s website because it has run out of inventory.

Meanwhile, large volumes of masks are on sale at inflated prices on online flea market sites. For example, a pack of seven masks, normally selling at around ¥400, is priced at about ¥4,000 on one such website.

At a drugstore in the city of Osaka, a female corporate worker in her 20s said: “I’m now visiting a fifth store for a pack containing a large number of individually wrapped masks. But I can’t find it at all.”

A student from Taiwan in her 20s said she has been asked by her parents to buy masks in Japan and bring them when she returns home. “I came to this store because (mask) prices are soaring on internet sites, but I can’t find any.”

Japanese authorities are considering drawing up regulations on resale and other practices on online flea markets. “The situation needs to be watched carefully,” an official of the Consumer Affairs Agency said.

Kensaku Fukui, a lawyer versed in issues related to product resale, said that there could be cases in which laws are established to ban resale of specific products, such as Olympic tickets, at abnormally high prices. “But it’s difficult to regulate resale of masks,” he said.

Still, Fukui said that it is very malicious to corner goods and resell them taking advantage of a disease outbreak, adding, “Measures should be taken, such as stores limiting the number of items each customer can buy and rejecting purchases for the purpose of resale.”