[Listening] Japan Prepares Ice-cold Face Masks For Summer

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1. vary widely
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Wearing a face mask can be effective in blocking viruses out of our mouth and nose, but as temperature rises, doctors fear covering face to prevent coronavirus could mean deaths from dehydration and heatstroke. How to sort it out? Japan may have an answer.

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Click the button at the bottom of the screen to play the audio. Please fill in the blanks and leave your answers in the comment. The answers will be revealed in the next episode.

Medical fears of a heat stroke pandemic during Japan’s _____(3 words missing) summer months are prompting a rush to develop face masks that keep the wearer cool. About 1,000 people die from heat stroke every summer in Japan, but this year millions of people will try to survive the season wearing a mask against coronavirus. Doctors fear hundreds of extra deaths.

The problem is _____(1 word missing) entrepreneurs to come up with a range of unlikely solutions, from high-tech woven materials to chilled masks sold from vending machines, with an eye to what could be a huge market across Asia.

Two middle school students in China reportedly _____(1 word missing) and died in April while wearing high-grade face masks during physical education classes. Daily highs in the Japanese summer regularly soar above 35C with a relative humidity of 90 per cent. “The number of people suffering from heat stroke in Japan is increasing every year. There are tens of thousands of cases,” said Dr Hideki Taniguchi, a specialist in dehydration and heat stroke who works at the Saiseikai hospital in Yokohama.

Wearing a mask creates three big problems, he said: it stops cool air coming in, which raises the body temperature, especially above the neck; it retains humid air, so the throat does not dry, and people forget to drink; and the social pressure to keep a mask on in front of others means people drink less often.

Mask-makers have rushed to create cooler options. Marui Orimono, one of Japan’s largest textile companies, is selling a “cool” mask that promises better heat conductivity with the skin and so a more comfortable feel. It is washable and the filter inside can be replaced. Tomoyuki Miyamoto, Marui Orimono’s executive director, said the company originally developed the material for scarves or futons but mask sales have been five times initial expectations.

“It doesn’t actually lower the temperature but it feels cooler to wear,” he said. Apparel company Knit-wise originally began selling chilled masks as a joke. They are packaged in a glass container like a soft drink and get chilled to a few degrees above zero in vending machines. “It’s like a parody,” said managing director Katsuyuki Goto. “After a couple of minutes it’s like a normal mask.”

But just in its local area, the company has sold 10,000 in the space of a month. “The reaction is amazing. The phone has been ringing off the hook,” said Mr Goto. The race is now on to produce a mask that actually lowers body and air temperatures. Mr Goto said he will soon launch a patented mask that uses a gel to produce lasting cooling. Mr Miyamoto also plans to sell a mask that lowers temperatures within a few weeks, although he declined to say how it would work.


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