Mask bandits may or may not have been masked bandits.

Back when we declared the tapioca fad to be on the way out, we wondered what the next big thing to fly off the shelves in Japan would be. Well, sadly, it turns out it’s surgical masks.

Thanks to the ever-present threat of COVID-19, of which we are constantly reminded by non-stop media coverage, it is virtually impossible to buy a mask in Japan. This is horrible news for people who like to keep their faces warm or allergy sufferers, what with hay fever season just around the corner.

But the hardest hit is undoubtedly hospitals. As the name suggests, surgical masks are indispensable to surgery, helping to prevent intermixing of bodily fluids between patient and medical staff. And even though they are designed with that purpose rather than filtering viruses or bacteria, people aren’t taking any chances by not wearing them at all times during coronamania 2020.

▼ For best results, also use gloves. And hey, a little black magic never hurt anyone either.

Because of this, demand is sky-high, making these items worth their weight in gold. Unfortunately, security measures to protect these valuable goods hasn’t caught up yet and has resulted in Kobe Red Cross Hospital being the target of a major mask heist.

On 13 February, it was discovered that four cases of surgical masks were stolen from the hospital’s mechanical room where they were being stored. In total, 6,000 masks were stolen which the media is valuing at 40,000 yen (US$363) but isn’t taking into account their street value which, judging by current rates for hospital-grade masks on Yahoo! Auctions, would be in the neighborhood of 400,000 yen ($3,600).

Stealing can often run the moral gamut, from the forgivable theft to feed a starving child, to the bottom-of-the-barrel heinousness of stealing crucial medical supplies simply in order to capitalize on a resale boom. As such, netizens were quick to condemn this despicable act.

“What an awful thing to do.”
“I hope they catch that jerk quickly.”
“The only people desperate for masks are resellers, students taking entrance exams, and people who are easily influenced by the media.”
“So it’s come to this now; mask thieves.”
“They probably can’t sell them in Japan since they would be too easy to recognize. I guess they will try in China.”
“Hopefully when they find this person, they’ll kick their ass.”

Until hospitals are ensured the stock they need, we can all do our part by not supporting the resale industry that promotes the environment for these kinds of crimes to happen.

Instead try to use your existing supply of masks for as long as possible, and when empty, switch to using everyday objects like wrapping a scarf around your face with a paper towel, coffee filter, or feminine hygiene pad tucked inside for extra protection.

▼ A good way to prolong the life of your masks is by not wearing them when not needed, such as when standing in a limbo of white space.

Those methods may sound strange but are cheaper and about as effective as actual surgical masks against a viral outbreak anyway. More importantly, they help keep money out of the hands of people who are potentially just as big a threat to human life.

Source: Asahi Shimbun, Hachima Kiko, Yahoo! Auctions
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso 1, 2
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