Photo/Illutration Prototypes of a high-performance medical face mask being developed by the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center and three Japanese companies. The parts with a blue frame are replaceable filters. (Provided by the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center)

To remedy the N95-standard face mask shortage at Japan hospitals caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a medical institution and three companies in the Kansai region have teamed to develop and produce a domestic equivalent.

The National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center (NCVC) in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, and three companies announced the high-performance medical mask project on Sept. 2.

The group said it will seek to have its product certified as meeting the U.S. standard for N95 masks and aims to start producing them in Japan by the end of this year.

N95 face masks can block more than 95 percent of microparticles measuring 5 micrometers in size or smaller. The masks are essential protective gear for health care workers when providing medical treatment, particularly tracheal suction, dental or other treatment that exposes them to aerosols in exhaled breath of patients who may have COVID-19.

However, the masks have been in short supply in the country since demand for them soared across the globe following the outbreak of the pandemic. 

The lack of N95 masks has forced health care workers in Japan to repeatedly reuse disposable ones and the health ministry has no choice but to allow them to do so as an exceptional measure. 

Japan is currently dependent on imports from China and other countries to obtain most of its N95 face masks for use at its medical institutions.

“We want to get our new masks into practical use as soon as possible to eliminate health care workers’ risk of contracting the coronavirus,” said Kunihiro Nishimura, who heads the Department of Preventive Medicine and Epidemiology at the NCVC. “Imports of medical face masks could stop coming in, so it’s important to secure domestic production lines.”

The NCVC began developing a new medical face mask to lower the risk of infections for Japan's estimated 1.72 million health care workers.

Daikin Industries Ltd., a leading air conditioner manufacturer based in Osaka, Nipro Corp., a major medical equipment maker based in the same city, and crossEffect Inc., a Kyoto-based model maker, have also joined the effort to develop the mask.

The mask the group is working on features a replaceable filter and a body made of flexible resin.

To prevent users from feeling uncomfortable even when wearing the mask for long periods, the mask is being designed to fit an average-sized face of a Japanese person.