Drug stores want seniors to stop lining up before opening hours in hope of buying face masks, but that’s led to another problem at this shop.

Even though the Japanese government has declared an official state of emergency in Tokyo and a number of other prefectures due to coronavirus, the country isn’t experiencing extreme shortages for most goods. Grocery stores have plenty of rice, meat, and produce, and finding instant noodles, dry pasta, and other crisis-mentality staples isn’t so hard. Toilet paper is even becoming fairly easy to come by again.

However, the shortage of face masks continues. Factories are churning the coverings out, but they tend to get bought up as soon as shipments come in, and so getting your hands on a pack is a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and the basic logic is that the right time is first thing in the morning, since that’s when delivery trucks drop off their shipments at retailers, and that’s led to long lines forming outside drugstores.

▼ A line of people waiting to buy masks

Having a bunch of people standing around in close proximity to each other for extended periods of time isn’t exactly a desirable scenario from a social distancing perspective, and what’s especially worrisome is that often these early-morning mask hunters are senior citizens, a demographic that’s particularly at risk of transmission of the virus and its potentially lethal consequences. So to discourage long pre-opening lines, some stores have instituted new policies where masks aren’t put on the store shelves when the store opens in the morning, but at an undisclosed time later in the day. No point in standing around outside the store if you already know you won’t be able to buy masks when the doors open, right?

At one store, though, this new sales system has resulted in yet another problem, though, as shown in this photo from Japanese Twitter user @karyujinsei.

Looking at the row of shelves, you can see a large empty space, which is where the masks are usually stocked. And directly in front of it is an elderly man, who’s been there long enough that he’s gotten tired of standing and is instead sitting on the floor, prepared to kill time with his smartphone until a clerk comes by and starts putting out masks.

Thankfully no one else in the photo is copying his strategy, but it’s still a troubling reaction to the “no masks at opening time” policy. Not only is the man spending an extended time in the store in a health climate where shopping trips should be as quick as possible, by essentially lining up for masks inside the store instead of outside, he’s doing so in a less ventilated space, and other Twitter users were quick to criticize his tactics.

“You know, if you had just stayed home, you could have saved yourself the need to use that mask you’re wearing right now.”
“Hey, Gramps, I think it’s time for you to start making your own masks out of cloth at home.”
“They should put up a sign saying ‘As long as this person is waiting inside the store, we will not be selling masks to anyone, and will instead be shipping our stock to other branches.’”
“Or they could say that as long as people are loitering, they’ll suspend mask sales until the following day.”

Some stores seem to have already begun countermeasures like those mentioned by the last two commenters, such as the one shown in this photo that has posted a sign saying that they are refusing to sell masks to people who have been loitering inside the store waiting for the items to be stocked on shelves.

In retrospect, the fact that retired seniors have the time to line up before stores open should have tipped merchants off to the fact that they also have enough free time to just hang out inside the store for a couple hours, and hopefully new policies will be put in place to discourage people, of all ages, from such high-risk shopping strategies.

Source: Twitter/@karyujinsei via Jin
Top image: Pakutaso
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