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Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui gives an interview at the city’s prefectural government building on April 6. Kyodo News via Getty Images

The mayor of Japan’s third largest city is facing a public backlash after he said men would make more effective grocery shoppers than women as officials struggle to prevent overcrowding at stores amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of confirmed cases of the virus has spiked in recent weeks — dashing hopes that the government’s initial virus response had succeeded in controlling its spread. As of Friday, Japan had recorded 13,100 confirmed cases, including 330 deaths, according to the country’s health ministry. On March 1, Japan had reported just 243 cases.

That spike has seen a raft of new restrictions put in place nationwide. On Thursday, Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui implied male grocery shoppers would reduce the potential spread of the virus as they would spend less time in shops. 

“Women take a longer time grocery shopping because they browse through different products and weigh out which option is best,” Matsui told reporters at a coronavirus news conference in Osaka on Thursday. 
“Men quickly grab what they’re told to buy so they won’t linger at the supermarket — that avoids close contact with others.”

Gender inequality: Women account for more than 51% of the Japanese population, according to World Bank data. However, Japan is ranked 110th out of 149 countries in the World Economic Forum’s gender gap index.

Journalist fires back: The mayor’s comments prompted journalist Shoko Egawa to post on Twitter that “people who know nothing about daily life shouldn’t make comments.”

Egawa’s post gleaned over 3,000 retweets, with one social media user suggesting in a tweet that Matsui had probably never done the shopping himself. Another commentator tweeted that Japan’s tragedy was having politicians like Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who they said knew nothing about daily life.

Limiting crowds at supermarkets: Osaka has been under a state of emergency since April 7. Matsui’s comments came after he suggested supermarkets limit the number of people entering stores where possible, and recommended the public only shop for groceries once every two to three days.

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